Saturday, November 1, 2014

Elizabeth Smither

Ukulele for a dying child

No right to write in longhand with a black pen
the stroking words as fine as ukulele strings.
The ukulele pink and curved, the little girl
whose dying is unknown to her, adults presume.

She sits propped up with pillows, plays
with her teacher who has come visiting
sweets in his pocket, if they are called for,
music’s notes fat in the air, and infallible.

And everything is pressing in, before it flees
(how unbearable to live this way forever)
and yet to live would be nothing fairer
with just the ukulele and the giver.

© Elizabeth Smither

Slippers  for Viva

At the last your feet swelled and their shape
changed to a caricature of a foot. How
strangely arched it seemed, the foot
you lifted from your only fit, the slipper.

All you could wear: slippers befitting a mandarin
in maroon velvet with embroidered uppers
the widest size for your stiff high arch
to slide into, without a chance of straightening.

Racks and racks of shoes you possessed
boots and stilettos, sandals light as air
buckles, straps, suede, satin. Surely they
could have assembled into one hybrid pair

fit for your poor stiff foot that seemed
like a dinosaur trying to enter a building
the ceiling too low for the neck, the tail knocking
over the walls, the head like your pointing big toe.

© Elizabeth Smither

The fantasy of the body

Flushed in its lovely curves
its dimples and folds lovingly wiped
no one could complain of the body of a child.

It wakes, full-flushed, and runs
without hesitation from its bed.
Later it grows strong and bold.

But if it were otherwise: if a spirit
were the greater part and being clothed
(in folds and dimples) was a disguise?

What if it were a spirit who ran
sometime before the moment of birth
down avenues of bodily supplies

selecting like a new army recruit
all it needed: skin and teeth
hair and limbs, all the organs

that skin holds in and bone protects?
If it gathered those to make its clothes
since clothes are mainly what we desire.

In reverse they might be handed back:
the failing limbs that need a hinge
the wrinkled no-longer-admired skin

until at last the spirit swims
like a frog in Monet’s lily pond
among the bruised leaves and blooms.

© Elizabeth Smither

Swimming with our fathers   for Beth

You used to swim with your father and
I used to swim with mine. The same
beach but perhaps never at the same time

though that’s a possibility. We’d never met
when, aged ten or thereabouts, we swam
in our ruched swimsuits, our flat chests

with our handsome fathers. Mine
going further out than I dared –
or maybe he was protecting me from the sea –

swam breaststroke in. I saw his legs
snap and open like scissors, his head
regarding me and my dog paddle.

And you, my long-time friend, saw your
father too, floating on his back, but
turning his eyes, time and again, towards you.

© Elizabeth Smither

Tonia’s cemetery

This morning we visited three houses
you’d lived in, decrepit or gentrified.
My knees decrepit, your hair fresh-dyed.

We moved on to two galleries: one hung
whiteness on white walls, the other
was saved by the owner’s black Highland terrier.

Then we drove to your cemetery.
You gave it its name, said
that though you had not yet a plot

one would be available, being country
and sparsely used. There was one grave there
new-mounded up, crowned with white flowers

so raised it could have been two lovers
under winter bedclothes, wrapped
in detumescence in each other’s arms.

You’d expect me to visit, you said,
look down where the earth had sunk.
And I said the same for myself,

though I had no place, certainly
none with such an appealing white gate
like a farm gate, but newly-painted

and quiet consoling trees – I envied
you those – how well you had selected
your place, far better than your houses.

© Elizabeth Smither

Young woman at an open casket

Within the walls of thick white pine
the body lies under a roll-back veil
of tacked-on gauze. Those who raise it
are handmaidens and as ceremonious.

Nothing now must disturb, not an atom
of dust, a flake of skin or a hair
the solemnity of a gesture, the way
we stand by the wood and rope handles.

Furtively but with daring (what can
we bear on a first attempt?) our eyes
marvel at the antique lace collar
the strands of pearls, looped

then the fingers, clasped about the rosary
with such stiff passion. Was it forced
or placed in blue-shaded fingers at the last?
How tiny and childlike the chest.

No one is saying but one crying young woman
that death to come in this way, must have been
the fiercest thing we can imagine, no angel
but iron-winged, obdurate, at the end

determined to seize the life that oddly
defeated it too, as it raced up the body
as if self-administering, self-poisoning
was its silly futile wish?

© Elizabeth Smither


1 comment:

  1. "Ukulele for a dying child" is a masterpiece. I would like to thank Elizabeth Smither for having written this poem and for having shared it.