"John Smith's words are stepping stones into the natural world, bridging it and drawing from it insights that resonate in the human mind and soul. His empathetic accord with the environment, coupled with his imagery and word play, make each and every one of his poems as enticing as April woodlands and as honest as December sunlight."
– Pete Dunne, director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Vice President of Natural History for the
New Jersey Audubon Society
"Smith is honest and often funny about the “beast with two names,” the “one that hibernates inside” all of us and causes that “tug-of-war” for dominance over tomatoes and electric wires. Deft with image and sound, Smith brings self-knowledge to his praise of snow geese and starlings, indigo buntings and ospreys–and devotion to the poems for his wife and daughters. John Smith’s poems are wise–and difficult to forget. "
– Lois Marie Harrod, author of The Only Is, winner of the 2012 Tennessee Chapbook Contest
Even That Indigo
The last blue through
my kitchen window
is indigo. Before a crow
swallows the sapphire
in the sky’s dark bowl
and everything goes black,
it goes indigo, gets an
ultramarine sheen to it,
a nebulous blue and black stain,
like a painting by Rothko
or a trombone and cello duet
that makes the wild iris moan
deep in its throat, moan
like a pilot light
inside a dark stove.
The same indigo in the eye
of a cormorant
nodding on a snow bank in Antarctica
glows in the feathers of a bunting
calling from the forest edge
of my back yard.
You know the indigo,
like a blueberry, solo
in an ebony bowl,
before the kitchen goes black
and night takes back
even that indigo.
Do you remember your first bird,
the way it scuttled across the lawn, stopped stiff,
tilted its head, and listened to the earth?
Don’t you still need to hold still sometimes
and feel the world underfoot?
Aren’t you plucked from this life
by such singing as unthreads each day,
struck by shadows soaring past your feet
and scaling the very buildings
that tower in your way?
Isn’t a black silhouette perched in every tree?
Who among us hasn’t sat up with the owls
interrogating the night?
Who hasn’t been knocking on dead wood for years,
flapping through life, season by season,
squawking and warbling, warbling and squawking,
migrating, migrating, migrating?
Don’t we all live on the wing,
teetering in the wind
from one nest to the next,
compelled by our own singing?
Sometimes I think the whole world’s
propped up on paws
like the rabbit I passed in the street,
arched from stomach to head
as if it were trying to push up from the road,
keep from being pulled in,
shifting side to side
unable to lift the mangled legs
dragging behind it.
I think how it held back its shoulders
while I made a U-turn, how quietly it shook
when I pulled up alongside it,
how a black sports car stopped too
and the guy riding shotgun without a shirt on
poked his head through the sunroof and said,
We were gonna put it outta misery.
So was I, I said, Go ahead.
But, before I could pull away he asked,
Would you do it?
I don’t want to talk about brittle mercy,
the soft inside of a skull,
how fur slides on asphalt,
or about how less than fifteen minutes later,
as I was driving back home from the store,
a turkey vulture shrugged
on what was left of the carcass.
I can still see the black feathers
shrouding its throat,
the red face, the white tip of its beak.
The next day the rabbit was gone,
and I ran into one of the same guys
renting videos. But the tongue is harder to lift
than both legs, so we didn’t say a thing
about remorse or the undriveable distance
between compassion and slaughter,
didn’t even offer a handshake,
just a faint smile, something quick with the eyes.
I want to talk about what a waste it is
not to say what needs to be said
while the words are still in the mouth,
because nothing lives on the tip of the tongue
forever. I want to know what silence
has to do with survival and why we live
with all the things we don’t say,
all the muted stains that darken the road.