J Mark Smith poem LEAD

(Field, B.C. / July 2009)

It was near dark and I went along a gravel road up into the woods
where a stream crashed off a great peak. I stood without knowing:
what it was, that element in motion. The cold air it sent up, with a cut

of oxygen. White sounds atop the clinking of stone on stone. Matte
depths, and dull or transparent shallows. Velocities, back-eddies,
rushings. And not a pause in it anywhere, not a hint of frost ahead.

I lay on a wooden floor in a bare upstairs room, slipped from my mat,
and at dawn heard three buzzy notes, unvarying in their changes.
I knew the song, a thrush’s patterning, from somewhere, familiar.

But what was the element transporting its notes to me? I no longer even
thought I knew anything of that. I was among friends, I could hear
the engines sparking, spritzing, ready to go up the hill, but why

the power of sound carried to me the feeling of being
in a beneficent place, I could not say. Across a dryas flat the poplars
were throwing white fluff, the air coolly accepting of that seed.

My one-year-old slept at last in his stroller and I watched the sun
dazzle off the river’s blades. I saw the shadows of fir and spruce
lengthen along the narrow valley, and I sprawled there without a slip

of understanding, no more than when in late March the sun finds a slot
in the mountains’ join, and the blessed equinoctial rays enter at last
by morning into kitchen nooks, and set the icicles outside to steaming.

I took a handful of loam or silt and black flower parts to hold. I could
conceive of no way into the between-spaces or times. Two towns-
people in the graveyard I had shared words with. One I used to see

roaming these streets well into the hour of dark, squinting her bad eyes
at the spectra gray rock high up will throw off. She lay changed
in earth now, changed, and I as far from knowing of a sill to wait by.

J. Mark Smith is a Canadian poet and critic. His translations of the Chilean poet Winétt de Rokha have appeared recently in Shearsman and The Fortnightly Review. His own poetry has been published in Notes for a Rescue Narrative (Oolichan Books, 2007) and in journals such as Vallum, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, and The Antigonish Review. He teaches in the English Department at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, where he has lived since 2006.

Photo courtesy Aaron Burden/Stocksnap.