Robert Lavett Smith
“Out of darkness, to begin again…”
W. B. Yeats, the story goes,
young and impecunious in London,
rubbed lampblack into his stockings
to hide the rends in his boots.
Barely a century earlier, sailors
burned cauldrons of pitch on deck
to keep water-sprites at bay,
and I’m assured the India ink
generations have counted on
is nothing more than midnight’s tallow
fat with the leavings of guttered fires.
In the middle ages, sable showed—
dare we say it?—its darker side:
blood pooling beneath fevered skin
lent a name to the scourge
that tested the piety of saints.
Notwithstanding, I trust the darkness:
moist flannel enfolding a summer night,
stars pinned like disappointments
to its unblemished mystery.
AFTER THIRTY YEARS
Helmer’s, Washington Avenue, Hoboken
Carved wooden bar darkened by the weight
of a ponderous century, ornate scroll work
to which the grime of the late Victorian era
still clings: how little changed it all seems
since I lived nearby decades ago, although
the pert, twenty-something bartender says
everything was refurbished after a fire upstairs,
smoke and water having scarred the walls.
I savor again familiar smells of old varnish
and sunlight. The same elegant antique mirror,
silvered crystal brimming with shadows,
runs the length of the counter, behind the bar.
But whose is this stranger’s face, skin wrinkled
and loosening, that peers incredulously back
through the glittering bottles of aged whiskey,
imported tequila, Fernet and Tanqueray?
AN ACCIDENT OF WEATHER
A.T. S., Oberlin, Fall 1977
Try, if you must, to persuade me
that this street so slick the asphalt
shouldering the morning mist
shines as it might after rain,
this street where a cataract sky
is mirrored, featureless
as though it secreted some meaning
beyond an accident of weather,
cannot possibly lead us to any future
save for the one that you foresee.
I will listen to what you tell me
without speaking, perspiration chill
on my face in the breaking dawn.
I will contradict nothing.
And when you’ve said your piece
and turn to go, I will study the way
your footprints linger an instant
on a film of oily moisture
before they disappear, healing
behind your retreat like wounds.
Raised in New Jersey, Robert Lavett Smith has lived since 1987 in San Francisco, where for the past fifteen years he has worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional. He has studied with Charles Simic and Galway Kinnell. He is the author of several chapbooks and two full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is Smoke in Cold Weather: A Gathering of Sonnets (Full Court Press, 2013).