Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 2010 Poetry Challenge

Many times since the death of my grandmother I have wished I could sit down with her and talk as we used to talk. There are questions I wish I had asked her, and things I would like to tell her. I’d like to discuss some of the ways she impacted my life, tell her about some of the decisions I made, and introduce her to my children and grandchildren (none of whom had the privilege of meeting her). Some day maybe I’ll write her a letter. It would be especially appropriate for me to write the letter as a poem, since my grandmother loved poetry. One of the main reasons I was attracted to poetry is that she recited poems to me from memory, and also wrote a few poems of her own.

Jared Smith has authored at least six books of poetry, and has had his work adapted for the stage at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, as well as in the Chicago Suburbs. He has served as a screener, board member, and advisory board member of The New York Quarterly and as poetry editor of Trail & Timberline.

Smith says it took him thirty years to find the right words and the time to write the following poem, addressed to his father. The lines do not appear quite as they do in Smith’s book, because he writes in longer lines than this blog permits. Consequently, I have double spaced the lines and let the longer lines fold into the next line. Those spaces thus are the line breaks. Where Smith put a stanza break, I’ve put two blank spaces, to distinguish it from a line break. Also, in the published version, the title appears farther to the left on the page than the rest of the poem.


your grandson is struck sterile

among choices you have left behind.

The compass that carried you through Eagle Scouts is gone;

the badges worn across your chest, dust like the degree from Harvard.

I am a cold point beneath the winter sky,

a dust mote upon a string played obbligato between galaxies,

and soon enough there will be no mountain meadows

for your descendents to walk among.

Darkness burns away on the wings of a moth

flaring itself into a place you have come to know.

The maples I climbed on have gone,

with no more power in their roots to shade your window.

The driveway I carried your suitcase along that last day

has been blacktopped three times that I know

and the weeping cherry you never knew was planted

by my son whom you never knew

and dwarfs a house on the other side of town.

You knew the lady slippers and May apples,

showed me where tiger salamanders lay beneath logs,

called ground cover by all its varied names

spoke 16 languages and read from the books of the dead,

strode with an urgency through urban forests

and took the train to work each day. Tickets, getting

tickets please. Sandwiches in paper bags.

The aurora borealis blows through the cells of my bone,

igniting them so that they are torn apart and scattered in the solar wind.

What was it that you wanted to achieve? Why

did we wear our tight shirt collars to expensive hotels

or spend long years sweating our fears into foreign sheets?

I am older now than you were on that day

when you lay down in a blueberry patch and died

on vacation beneath a Minnesota sky.

After the stroke, we had three days before you rose,

and the light in your eyes seemed to go on forever without finding words.

In listening ever since among the stars, I have been paralyzed

and have raised flawed children who are as wise as you

with no desire to pass it on.

~ Jared Smith

© Jared Smith. From pages 4-5,

You can purchase Jared Smith’s latest book, Grassroots, from

There is a review of Grassroots at

Other books by Jared Smith:

Lake Michigan And Other Poems

Looking Into The Machinery: The Selected Longer Poems Of Jared Smith

Walking the Perimeters of the Plate Glass Factory

The Graves Grow Bigger Between Generations

The December 2010 Poetry Challenge

The challenge for December is to write a poem as a letter to someone who has been physically gone from your life for at least a decade, but still impacts your life. You may write in free verse or in form. If you use a form,specify the form you are using.

The deadline is December 15, 2010.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If you poem has been published in a periodical, please include publication data.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send your poem to wildamorris [at] ameritech [dot] net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot], and don’t leave any spaces). Or you can access my Facebook page and send the poem in a message. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog, if it is a winner. The deadline is December 15. Copyright on poems is retained by their authors.

© 2010 Wilda Morris