Two Poems

by C. O. Smith


First assemble the children, oldest
to youngest for torture
drills keeping in mind that bile
will rise faster in winter
due to trapped furnace
heat. The urge to swallow or
cough can be quelled by choking
off a register or cracking
a double-paned window. Should
a storm arrive
instruct the children where to lie,
usually back to butt
beneath an unpacked log
cabin quilt or an old broomstick
afghan not yet wrapped
between mirrors as cushioning. Remind them
that loud thunder is nothing more
than some vibration
in the universe, and urge them to capture,
shave, cut up, and prepare
their mental sheep for sleeping
instead of counting them. Their huckleberry smiles
should sufficiently fatigue those
rose-petalled eyelids
so that you can return to the dead
weight of books and small
appliances. These should be packed
quickly enough to go in
almost as unnoticed
as Brueghal's Icarus. And remember to line
each box with only a bottom layer,
as griddles and grinders have been known
to split straight through
even the strongest strapping tape. Continue
filling the cavity with feathered
flower arrangements or your grandfather's
field sweater or half the bathroom's
cottonballs. And this is the perfect time
to protect those two-
tined roast forks or blood engorged
rhutabega bulbs
with floursack towels
embroidered by your mother-in-law
in your second pregnancy. Now
for safety's sake, always
top off each full moving box with
wadded Christmas wrap
which, like your spouse, will cost
much less effort and money to replace
than to lug around
from year to year and catch
each time it falls
from that sun-shaded, heremetically
sealed, cheerfully controlled
environment you've spent hours
failing to provide. Besides,
the long hollow tube will bend around someone
else's hand anyway, or some dog
will just come along and lick
all the color off, and burning it
in the hot flash
of a fireplace is a known
hazard. So in the best interest
of all concerned, position each unsightly roll
beneath hard cardboard, squashed
as the fat grapes of summer--
this good measure
pressed down and shaken together
to provide for settling
the way fruit plunges to the bottom
of jello no matter how thickly
you stir and stir. Avoid
the glare of glass tape as it measures
and licks its seam. Now
go light a cigarette
and breathe. Your life
could begin at any moment.

Grief for a Son

I've seen him hang the dog on her chain--
sure as you'd dangle a teabag
above a cup--ten claws
glitter in the air and inches
from the slumpstone
porch, ten like hamsters praying.
Only now it's low-framed houses
he robs. That's this boy's rage.

It's been with me all winter. Something slow
in the night. Taste of the comet
dusting my molars with foil. And each
metal filling is a memory of him.
Once, he's learning to count, sometimes
backwards to erase his mother. Another
is the time they move him from pitcher
to dugout, teaching him nothing
is fair, teaching me how to hold pain.
And later, the cinnamon fur of the fox
he has trapped and tacked
between bright Hustler pinups.

This last time, I reach through sleep's heavy
foliage for the phone. It seems he's
putting someone else's fingers
in the fanblade, strangers
with nothing against this kid choking
off the chance for a decent life. I say
goodbye to it all again with a twist
of the jailhouse dial--his new steel
bars so cobalt blue they must
be stolen from some playground.

Suddenly, there's solder flying through
the eye's milky resin. An arc
of perspiration hits the dark, seeping
up my nightshirt once again. Just rinse
the mind of its dull red
blinker and there you have it--an engine
in your face, demanding to show you
those things you will always
forget--the things he did to others, the things
he's done to you.

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