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robin smith-johnson

Giver of Forms

The still part of the day
is the hardest. It is my hour of wanting
to flower, to burst out singing
or to undress wildly in front of the window.
Nothing moves but my blood and the minute hand.

In childhood, I dreamed of growing up
and bearing children. Now with three
of my own, I cradle my young body
if only in dreams. Indian goddess,
I have infinite arms, all moving, giving.

It is a life of no mercy.
My mouth spouts beanstalks
and giants. Just one more, they plead.
The words become my mantra:
once upon, on, om.

I give myself over as whole:
then fragment when
the baby cries; the phone rings,
the siren shouts:
it’s over, it’s over.

I fold myself away
like a shirt that
won’t be worn again
until summer.

(Published in “Essential Love: Poems about Mothers and Fathers,
Daughters and Sons,” Grayson Books, 2000)

Gretel’s Complaint

He would go.
The white stones clinked
in his pocket;
the sun was almost up.
The old ones
wanted to be rid of us.
No food!
Even the dog had more.

He crept out early
and waited for me.
I saw the stones
marking our way back.
But why go at all?
I wanted to sink
under covers,
nibble bread crumbs

in bed, not in the depths
of a dark forest.
The witch found us,
of course, and fattened
him up and fed me only
crab shells.
Her home – how splendid –
with little cakes and candies.

All night he slept
while I planned our escape.
At last, I pushed the witch
deep into the hot oven.
Her flaming red eyes
swam up the chimney.
Dear brother –
you can find your own way back.

North Eastham

The winter I was seventeen
we lived in a home
with sculpted heads lining the garden.

Such an old place:
the wind shushing in corners,
the trace of other lives.

I made a world of small things.
In the low light after school,
I arranged the minutia of my life:

paper, pen, bookplate, watch.
I’d slip out of my body,
roam the spaces between walls.

Once I couldn’t get back in.
My soul doomed to wander –
the air stirred with my shrieking.

A good girl, my teachers said.
What I couldn’t see: the light
startling behind the mask.

On Considering Eye Surgery

I was raised thinking grass
was a whole entity, not single blades.
At ten, I put on my first pair of specs

but I still wanted to trace life
by glancing at, not looking through.
The time I sat next to you

in a darkened theater, my glasses
a weight in my lap. The story of …
Oh, I didn’t want to see anything.

The world of the myopic is cruel
but interior: objects move as planes
interlapping but with no sharp detail,

no distance between things. In kind,
I blurred relationships. Too close –
I’d discard my sight, flirt with disguise.

Old Bucky Fuller knew the sweetness
of dim masses parading as vision.
He trusted the inward eye,

that inward knowing.
When you said good-by,
I saw a globe of light floating away.

I Can’t Get Over the Fact of You Gone

See, I found a crimson shawl
that I pull around my face.
It’s never been worn
except by an old woman
sitting Sundays in the back pew.

She doesn’t know me.
I hear her voice over the choir,
an ancient bird in prints,
penny loafers and a faded scarf.
She used to wear the shawl

but it fell one morning.
I lifted it, still warm from her body.
Shunning the stern voice in my head,
I kept it for its softness,
its downy heat.

In mornings of ghost breath
and glacial updrafts,
there is not much to dream.
I plant the tree of myself
into snow and sleep.

What is wrapped around my head
slips to cover me, so cold,
I can’t translate another season.
It’s there before me,
the splintered pew, the hard edges,

the high note
held even after the choir stops.

The Next Wave

Ceiling fans,
wheeling and creaking like gulls,
disturb the air. A band plays
somewhere in another room.
It’s June. Month for making toasts.

The woman across from me,
bosomy, pop-eyed, leans forward:
Oh, did you hear (how tragic)
our friends who sailed for Bermuda –
she slows,
whispers – never …

Alien breath – heat lightning.
Death is here now,
in this room among these people.
A secret geography
of barren reefs and islands.

We order drinks and grow tipsy as waves.

It must have been heavenly
at first. The brave salty wind
spilling over them, the sails lifting,