Smith, Dave

United States, (b. 1942)

Pulling a Pig’s Tail

  1. The feel of it was hairy and coarse
  2. like new rope in Johnson’s
  3. hardware store but I never touched
  4. it or any part of a pig
  5. until that day my father took me
  6. where the farm was, woods
  7. a kind of green stillness, the hanging
  8. leaves from so much rain
  9. I guess—it felt as if I was upside
  10. down underwater trying to swim
  11. for my life. The farmer, Uncle Bern,
  12. said I could have one
  13. if I could catch it. A little one
  14. looked easy, about my size,
  15. wary because he must have been unsure
  16. of many things and hungry
  17. because the small lives always are so
  18. I chased him until foul mud
  19. was all over me, the big men crying.
  20. My father said it was just
  21. that funny like a kind of gray soul
  22. testing to see I wanted
  23. badly enough to catch myself, black
  24. eyes not seeming to watch,
  25. on the horizon sort of—the weird way
  26. I talked to it and finally it
  27. listened to something and I took
  28. hold, pulled, held, grunting,
  29. digging my sneakers into the shit. Why
  30. wouldn’t he bite me? I almost
  31. got that thing straight but then saw
  32. what wasn’t right, the hurt.
  33. Let go. I didn’t say I was thinking
  34. about school that was over
  35. that summer, the teacher that yanked
  36. my hair, who said she’d see
  37. my life was straightened out, Lord.
  38. I couldn’t tell my father
  39. a pig’s tail burns you like all things
  40. of beauty. I loved my school
  41. until that wet day when it let me go.

© Dave Smith, from the anthology Poems for a Small Planet. Robert Pack and Jay Parini, eds.. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England (1993).

Smithfield Ham

  1. Aged, bittersweet, in salt crusted, the pink meat
  2. lined with the sun’s flare, fissured.
  3. I see far back the flesh fall
  4. as the honed knife goes
  5. through the plat, the lost
  6. voice saying “…it cuts easy as butter….”
  7.  
  8. Brown sugar and grease tries to hold itself
  9. still beneath the sawed knee’s white.
  10. Around the table the clatter of china
  11. kept in the highboy echoes,
  12. children squeal in a near room.
  13.  
  14. The hand sawing it grandfather’s, knuckled,
  15. steadily starting each naked plat
  16. heaped when it ends. Mine
  17. waits shyly to receive
  18. under the tall ceiling
  19. all the aunts, uncles have gathered to hold.
  20.  
  21. My shirt white as the creased linen, I shine
  22. before the wedge of cherry pie, coffee
  23. black as the sugarless future.
  24. My mother, proud in his glance,
  25. whispers he has called for me and for ham.
  26.  
  27. Tonight I come back to eat in that house the sliced
  28. muscle that fills me with an old thirst.
  29. With each swallow, unslaked, I feel
  30. his hand fall more upon mine,
  31. that odd endless blessing
  32. I cannot say the name of …
  33. the dead recalled, the jobless
  34. with low sobs, sickness, the Depression.
  35.  
  36. Chewing, I ask how he is. Close your mouth, she says.
  37. This time, if he saw me, maybe he’d remember
  38. himself, who thanklessly carved us
  39. the cured meat. The Home holds
  40. him in darkness like coffee
  41. we poured those days. I gnaw
  42. a roll left too long, dried hard.
  43.  
  44. When my knife drags across the plate,
  45. my mother shakes her head, whining like a child.
  46. Nothing’s sharp anymore, I can’t help it, she says.
  47. Almost alone, I lift the scalded coffee.
  48. My mouth, as if incontinent,
  49. dribbles and surprises us.
  50.  
  51. Her face is streaked with summer
  52. dusk where katydids drill and die out.
  53. Wanting to tell her there’s always tomorrow,
  54. I say “You’re sunburned. Beautiful as ever.”
  55. Gardening puts the smell of dirt on her.
  56. Like a blade, her hand touches mine.
  57.  
  58. “More?” Then, “You’ll never get
  59. enough, you think, so sweet,
  60. until the swelling starts,
  61. the ache, the thirst that wants
  62. to bust a person open late at night.”
  63. I fill my cup again, drink, nod, and listen.

© Dave Smith. In the House of the Judge. New York: Harper & Row (1983).

Corner Room, Hog-Scald in the Air

  1. This is the room where she sickened, the clotted wads of paper.
  2. The smell is that of no-smell or, more precisely, a smell
  3. from the ancestral memory of hair dissolving.
  4.  
  5. The walls lean down with an absence like an envelope ripped.
  6. The bedsheets lie wrinkled and twisted, but no
  7. blanket, none needed even this near winter.
  8.  
  9. Someone has left a shoe canted at the dark woodwork, a boot
  10. badly scuffed, its tongue out, no lace.
  11.  
  12. Only hours ago I stood at these curtains and could not think
  13. what good they did on this poor earth where she slept
  14. in her small frame, where now blade of light
  15. comes in clean and is all
  16.  
  17. the world offers in its daily deliberations. If we speak of
  18. love, light will answer, Do you remember me?
  19.  
  20. But beyond the light I look, now, parting the gray fabric
  21. whose body and smell are simple things we may know
  22. as we knew the soft last glaze of an eye,
  23.  
  24. as we know, in time, our own coarse flesh weight and the useless
  25. discarded shape of a shoe, the world’s garbage.
  26. We are what the wind moves, scraps of litter
  27. shunted against a fence somewhere, trying
  28.  
  29. to understand. Or if not that, simply to hold on and know
  30. we are living, now, and nothing else matters. Yet we look
  31. out of our rooms to see the green barn, burned
  32. by wind, the fence diving over familiar hills,
  33.  
  34. a landscape of lime white in a sun cremating each particular.
  35. We are of these particulars but we do not look
  36. closely enough to know more than what
  37. we have casually touched
  38. until the wind slices
  39. and whatever we leaned on is memory,
  40.  
  41. is the road I can see from her window, broiling and black
  42. where the last cars disappear at a mound of earth
  43. under a pale, relaxed sky,
  44.  
  45. and is also the insatiable lust of the mind to stare down
  46. into a yard where someone stirs a boiling pot
  47. and hogs, snuffling for scraps, blindly
  48. lunge body to body, great scrotums swinging,
  49.  
  50. their squeals of discovery and pleasure the same
  51. scalded, in dissolution, cries we have made.

© Dave Smith. Floating on Solitude. Urbana: University of Illinois Press (1996).

About the Poet:

David Jeddie Smith (b. 1942) is a U.S. poet, writer, critic, editor and educator. Smith received a BA from the University of Virginia, an MA from Southern Illinois University, and a PhD from Ohio University. Smith’s work is characterized by his Virginian identity and an abiding nostalgia for the South.

Smith has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, including Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems 1992–2004 and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000. Smith’s prose includes the novel Onliness (1981), the story collection Southern Delights (1984), and the essay collection Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry (2006).

His honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, The Lyndhurst Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has also received the Virginia Poetry Prize (1988), and a Pushcart Prize (1997).

Smith founded a poetry magazine, Back Door, in 1969 and served as a coeditor of The Southern Review, literary editor of the Rocky Mountain Review, an editor of New Virginia Review and the University of Utah Poets Series. Currently, Smith is the editor of the Southern Messenger Poetry Series at Louisiana State University and Elliott Coleman Professor of Poetry and Department Chair at Johns Hopkins University. [DES-03/12]

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A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.