Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: R. T. Smith (I)

It has been 15 weeks -- an eternity in blog time -- since my last Sunday Sabbath Poetry post. Certainly this is by far the longest stretch of absence in the series, having consistently had something up almost every week for two and a half years, then . . . nothing. No doubt not a few may have wondered if I had given up the game.

Only busyness and business, however. As I have mentioned as explanations, but so often now as to have become creeping justifications, the perfect storm of thesis writing, application waiting, graduation walking, and out-of-state moving conspired to eliminate all regularity in my blogging plans.

As it stands, the final move is still a couple weeks off, so the boxes and indeterminacy will retain their unsteady effects on this space for another month at least.

That said, it's never a bad time to pick things up where they left off, however unceremoniously; so here you go. I'll post a favorite of R. T. Smith's (a recent discovery for me) this week and the next, each from his 2001 collection Messenger. Enjoy!

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By R. T. Smith

Locked tight in blue
velvet as a fossil
saved in slate,

the fiddle my father
played in church,
on the courting porch

and for the Masons
of Griffin, Georgia,
is covered in dust.

Bridge missing, scrollwork
chipped and pegs
spoiled with chrome,

it harbors a secret
in its sound box:
Carlo Bergonzi,

fece in Cremona,
An authentic
antique made

from bird's-eye
maple, fir, the glue
and varnish kin

to Guarneri and Strads,
it is, he says,
our single treasure.

The bow, now
missing, was tipped
with amber and fine

as heron bone.
The strings are
raveled to floss.

And yet, he lifts
the hourglass shape,
snugs the chin rest

and pretends to serenade
mother with ghostly
tones, his wrist

deftly turning, fingertips
gripping a shadow,
as rosin scent

somehow sweetens
the kitchen air.
Is it "Raglan Road"

that animates mother
or "Shady Grove"?
"The Kerry Trance"?

When she stops wiping
dishes to begin
her bashful shuffle,

I start to sway myself
and savor the legacy
they offer -- illusory

tunes, a past relived
with vigor, a vintage
Italian fiddle that kept

their story musical
until the marriage
melody became

their lasting dance.

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