Erin Elizabeth Smith is the author of The Fear of Being Found (Three Candles Press 2008) and The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake Press 2011). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, 32 Poems, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Cimarron Review, and Crab Orchard Review. She teaches a bit of everything in the English Department at the University of Tennessee and serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications.
We are in Maryland again,
where every few months we come
to paint your escape a duckhead green.
Tonight we pried open the chowder oysters
to lick the meat and liquor,
while you talked about your last wedding,
a herd of Montana elk dotted on the hills,
little brown watercolors on the Bitterroot.
And then about the blonde woman
you took to Rome, who dried her hair topless
out the villa window while the owner's
hot-skinned wife jealously fumed.
I am tired of not being all the women
who hurt you, of clenching the throats
of beer bottles in my teeth and smiling
like an upturned sprinkler. Of being
the domestic story, your Emer
at her needlework, all white-boned
and patient. It's been eight months
and they say the days grow shorter,
an oxymoron I understand. Tomorrow
we will caulk the deck of your boat,
close the cabin for its season
on stilts. Then we will go home,
and only home, but in your stories,
you'll always be in Crete or Spain
or on a German train traveling somewhere
toward the story of a woman
who is never me.
Some animals grow until they die — fish
for example. And snakes. I think about
Eve, at what moment beside the tree she was
lost. In the hand that grasped the proffered fruit,
the teeth, the bite, the pink tongue that fed it
to the throat? If she had held that apple
in her tiny mouth, far from the stomach
that turns the fruit to flesh, would we still call
it sin? Would that serpent have fought with its girth
until the blind, sexless beasts could escape
themselves no longer? The slim hope of death
hanging at the same distance in each frame,
as the snake filled the walled garden, outgrew
its skin, and begged of Eve, please, just chew.
Four Photographs of House with Mother
My mother is shaving
paint from a chair.
The bird green flakes off
in sheets like parmesan.
I am sixteen and she is teaching
me to sand, the smooth
side of the paper against palm,
the histories of a dresser
in rubbed down color.
We take it to the quick,
white ash beneath the canary
of my childhood.
She polishes the wooden knobs
to their beginnings,
while my elbows
push and push against
the dresser's frame.
My mother burned
our photo albums
when I was twenty-five,
the pyre licking up
with gasoline and seventh grade.
She was dancing, circling
the fire like a one-winged cowbird.
When she left the house
to the bank, a sunshine-yellow
gift wrapped in roofing tile,
she left everything
that didn't fit in a truck —
cast iron skillets, pictures
framed, the boxed dolls
we tended to as kids.
dresser surely hung
slack in a deserted room.
Our lightning-carved tree
still clings to its dead
branch, but the deck
again leads to a pool,
our childhood toys
finally off the lawn.
It's been three years, mom,
and still I drive past
our pat-of-butter house.
The one with the fig
tree that tempts scavenging
neighbors, the square porch
still strung with your smoke.
They have paved the road,
cut the plum to its trunk,
and as I circle the house,
this time at night,
the windows are blue-lit
with televisions again,
holding new children
as only houses can.