|*Phyllis Sterling Smith is the author of the novel AI is a Three Toed Sloth and translated the poems of Jorge de Sena (The Evidences, Poems, a bilingual edition. 1994. Center for Portuguese Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.)||
These poems (excepting "The Price per Barrel", 1991) are a few of my favorites of her early works. They are not representative of her later, award winning, work.
|Crusader||Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall|
|The Baby Dragon||Survivor|
|In the Shadow of the Andes||To Be Posted on Stanny's Door|
|To a Dandelion||The Price per Barrel|
|Lightening the Housewife's Burden||(Posted as we roll over the Iraqi border)|
And late, a Christian nation said,
“The Godless must be shown no pity."
Great fleets of flying crosses soared
to burn a city.
Thus through the ages Man has joined
not Him who on the cross must die
but heathen hordes* who raise a cross
*"ruthless mobs" in later versionsThe Baby Dragon
The spring sun warmed his infant shell-like scales.
He flexed his downy wings, not yet quite dry.
He raked new grass with slim stilleto nails
and sniffed black earth and herb scents.
swept indigo by winds, backed every bare
white tree. His breath steamed in the icy air.
The leathery shell, from which he’d clawed his way
at dawn, lay lost to dragon memory.
He switched his spiny tail in cautious play
to seek, by feel, his own identity.
Then clomping sounds disturbed the sough of wind.
With joy he knew his world contained another
who moved. His untried legs, well spurred and finned,
moved under him. He leapt to find his mother.
He saw bright silvery scales - made in a forge.
Exuberantly he romped to meet St. George.
Minor motifs, thin and reedy,
issue from the hidden organ.
Bells cascade a random pattern
from remoteness of the tower.
By the light of hard-bought candles
faces glow with silent reverence
for the high-cheeked Inca Jesus;
He is quieting the waters,
Jesus’ boat is bound with rushes;
Galilee is Titicaca.
Here, as ever, God’s salvation
comes in love’s familiar garments.
Distance/Rate = Time or
LIGHTENING THE HOUSEWIFE’S BURDEN
Designers ask about each task,
each step we take they measure.
From stove to sink dimensions shrink
to give us time for pleasure.
Yet in their supermarkets, new,
soft—colored not to fret us,
we walk a mile, aisle after aisle,
to buy a head of lettuce.
So too my land, mottled with history’s marks,
myopic in her shabby smog-grey age,
humming star-spangled tunes, once proudly sung,
obliquely sees, past dark fear-mugger parks,
reflected by her monstrous video stage --
lawn social, elm-shade summers, centuries young.
And now a little girl looks through old eyes
- a five-year-old. With anguish and regret
“He could have let me bring one doll!” she cries.
Hell is this desert road
with its litter of twisted metal
bodies strewn about the sand like dolls
their empty eyes turned skyward
nameless who once had names
some incinerated where they still sit
at the steering wheels of vehicles
that were to bring them home.
Hell is the anxious emptiness of those who wait.
Will he come today? Tomorrow?
They scan the straggles of ragged men returning
and think with a catch of hope that one
with his arm in the sling--see!--.he looks like--
husband father brother son.
The soldiers pass and waiting starts again.
And some will never come.
Hell is a victory celebration wrapped in stars and stripes,
red white and blue, flags flying
because we killed a hundred thousand men
in just one hundred hours
while those of another war--the one we didn’t win--
beg permission to sleep in parks, on sidewalks,
and people who won’t pay taxes for our schools
drive cars that spew out ozone-eating poisons.
Hell is this weight of sorrow and guilt.
Hell is fueled with oil.