southern viburnum amid the laurel among the spruce and hemlock on ridges stalked by the Cherokee and did not the green stems offer the trim and narrow the true wood for shafts? wrens nesting in the forks rendered feathers the color of bark for fletching leaf shape arrowpoint a bird’s beating heart the roots were perfect for lashing the flint tight so its missile could sing in flight and sometimes the hunter kept to shadows used the blue berries for lure and sometimes he killed a partridge in the remnant limbs and cut a spit and kindling but other times the man in stealth heard the wind’s voice where it gathered in the boughs and gave it heed and matched his steps to the rhythm and sped along the dampened path under a sky as dark as bartered tea
When the Empress Hsi Ling-Shi, veiled in imperial ennui, lifted the floss floating in her glazed bowl of tea and unraveled the skein of the silk worm’s cocoon for the very first time, could she have foreseen a world of robes and banners, kimonos musical against the skin and soothing to the eye as the sheen of her vessel or the blue-green shine of a new-fallen bird’s feathers rubbed by morning sunshine, and if so should I wish to thank that lady as you kiss your flesh with bird-print silk? Listening to the sleeve’s wide whisper, should I weave, against a world as common as cotton, a replenishing shrine high in the hospitable mulberry tree?
Haze in the orchard white as a harp’s voice. Each word has fluent roots, and we love to believe in the way syllables flower, how each noise arises from the Latin, Saxon, African and Norse, the manner of wood forming, sleek apples like hearts or a legion of lance-pointed leaves. Formal, the marriage of blossom to blossom, the priest bee transforming pollen. From each branch a single soloist stepping forth from the chorus, a bird sowing melody, quick weft threading the orchard’s warp, one verb in its slow arc entering the soil, smooth as a seed.
R. T. Smith edits Shenandoah for Washington and Lee University, where he also serves as Writer-in-Residence. His sixth book of stories, Doves in Flight, published in 2017, and his 14th book of poems, Summoning Shades, is due later in the year. Smith has work forthcoming in Five Points, Southern Review, and Southern Humanities Review. He lives on Timber Ridge in Rockbridge County, Virginia.