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R.T. Smith



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 is the editor of Shenandoah, The Washington and Lee University Review.  His volumes of poetry include The Cardinal Heart (Livingston, 1991),  Hunter-Gatherer (Livingston, 1996) and Trespasser (LSU, 1996), the latter two nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, as well as Split the Lark: Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2000) and Messenger (LSU, 2001). His collection of stories is Faith (Black Belt, 1995). Mr. Smith served for many years as poet-in-residence at Auburn University and co-editor of Southern Humanities Review.  His Selected Poems compilation is forthcoming.

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