KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Poem: 397 words [R]


by Charlie Smith
At a small monastery—or what had been 
a monastery—outside Obrégon, we stopped;   
you were suffering the hollow nausea of your first   
pregnancy, sleeping as best you could 
through the thousand miles of pines 
and rocky fields of northern Mexico, so I went ahead   
through the saddle-colored rooms, past 
the broken church and the row of empty sheds,   
where Indian women, according to a sign, 
once baked the flat bread called sapatos de Maria, 
to a garden in the back, over the parapet of which 
I could see the river through some willows: a rinsed   
bed of sand, dry now in winter. 
                                               I didn’t want a child,   
and I was tired of closeness, tired 
of being kind, so was glad to be alone 
a while and lay down under a jacaranda tree, 
and watched through leaves the changing pattern 
of the sky, which I was tired of too, the scaly, stratospheric   
winter clouds, edged with light, like the tiny waves   
you pointed out, reflected on the bottom of a bridge   
we rowed under in a rented boat, the day you told me   
of the child—I was tired and slept. 

It was nearly evening when I woke, two mestizo women   
hurried talking through the tulip beds, the sky was pale.   
They’d set small plaques among the plants, 
naming them, the ornamentals and the fruit. Some, 
so the writing said, were descendants 
of the cuttings brought from Spain by monks;   
intermingled here—Pinot grape with ocotillo,   
damascene rose—they thrived. I thought of a certain   
tenderness, and forbearance, a man might bring 
to vines and simple vegetables, cultivated 
in memory of his home perhaps, in a foreign place;   
and thought how sometimes what passes on from us   
has little to do with what we hoped, but nonetheless   
carries word of who we were and what we found. 
For a moment then, among the arbors and the flower beds,   
I did not feel so distant from this time and place,   
and the edge of my own local fears began to dull.   
I plucked a sprig—a leaf was all— 
from a holly bush, and brought it out to you,   
a little stronger in a portion of myself, a little   
reconciled, though I couldn’t know then 
that in a month we would lose the child, 
and in time you would pass, 
like a squandered fortune, from my life.

— From Smith’s latest collection, Jump Soul: New and Selected Poems
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2014); republished here by author’s permission

Charlie Smith
Issue 2, Winter 2015

is the author of eight poetry collections, seven novels, and a book of novellas. He has won the Aga Khan Prize, the Levinson Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His first book, Red Roads, was chosen for the National Poetry Series and received the Great Lakes New Poets Award. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Harper’s, New Republic, Nation, the New York Times, and elsewhere. Three of his novels have been named New York Times Notable Books.

Smith was born in Georgia and served in the Peace Corps before graduating from Duke University and the University of Iowa. He now lives in New York City and Key West, Florida.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Extended bio at New Georgia Encyclopedia (last updated August 2013)

Charlie Smith, an interview by John Reed in BOMB 113 (Fall 2010)

Regrets of a former “young William Faulkner” by Aaron Belz, in Comment: public theology for the common good (4 September 2009)

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