Messenger

By Dave Smith b. 1942 Dave Smith

for John Gardner

It was not kindness, but I was only buckle-high in the door.
I let him in because the knock had come, the rain
clawed each window and wall. I was afraid.
Climbing down the stairs I did not know
how my country, cunningly, had rotted,
but hear, now, my steps creak in memory
and the rocks let go in the blind nightglass
where you get up, frightened, to reenact
the irrational logic of flesh.

Even now I can’t see why it happens, the moment of change,
but must try to witness each particular index
of landscape and irony of promise. I know
I was a child when the banging began, sleepless
with every light in the house blazing. Then
the man whose speech entangled me came in
from the mud-world. He could not
put together the clear words of hope
we dream, only the surge of a river.
He, who said it wasn’t a fit thing

for anyone, half-grown, to have to imagine in this godforsaken
life, said there was a message, the river high,
no chance. I remember the wind at that door
breaking like a father’s hand on my face.
Such hurting does not cease and maybe
that is why the man went on fumbling
for love, for the loving words
that might be knowledge. He gave me

this message. I took it, and took, without warning, grief’s
language that piece by piece has shown me how
to connect dreamed moments skidding like rocks
in the silence of a Wyoming midnight.
Each of his rainy words, fragments
of the old sickness, passed into me,
then he was gone, miserable and emptied,
and I had no home but the heart’s hut,
the blistering walls of loneliness,
the world’s blue skymiles of longing.

Common with drowned fir and uncoiling crocus, then, I
walked in ignorance and entered this terrible life
that was always a dream of the future
in the relentless unsleep of those
who cannot remember the last thing they wanted
to say: that love exists. And in darkness
you have dreamed me into your world
with their message, their words
whispering an hour before black, sudden knocking

that, even as I recall it, begins in your heart’s meat
to reverberate, oh, its noise is going
to wake you like a dove’s desire.
This is the dream of the soft buckling
of flesh, the beautiful last erosions,
and I swear I would give up these words
if I could, I would stop the code
of that streetlight just beyond your bed—

but it is too late, for the secret of hope swells in you
and who can stop the news that already screams
like the roof’s edge leaving its nails
over your child’s bed that is, now,
splintered and empty as every moment
skidding at the back of your neck? Leaves
not a month old hurl out of the storm
and steady splatter of time, and tomorrow
will lie still ripening, but only long enough
for you to catalog, in dream, what was possible

before the rake must drag its scritch-scratch over ground.
All I ask is that you turn to the child
inside, those words dreaming and changeless
as love’s last chance—let them be said
against whatever, crying in the night,
we still think may be stopped, the black
historical fact of life’s event
crashing, like a wall of water,
over the actuary’s lawn and yours.

You have seen me before and would not hear, stung by your
wife’s fierce beauty, when I called your name,
and the day your mother died I begged
your attention and got your dollar.
I followed you once, in New York, like truth,
always to give you the message, and now
on your porch, mud-spattered, I am
knocking to make you see what love is.
Call your wife, the police, anyone you like,

for everyone is waiting. We don’t mean to be unkind but are
compelled to deliver, faithfully, the words
that have been fluttering in your ear
like a scream. It is not the wind
waking you, but the low roar of years
fumbling to tell you what has happened,
or will, when the door flies open
and the naked message of love
stands there stuttering in your face,
alive, crying, leaving nothing out.

Dave Smith, “Messenger,” from The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (New York: Harper & Row, 1985). Copyright © 1985 by Dave Smith. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (1985)

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Poet Dave Smith b. 1942

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Trees & Flowers, Death, Youth, Living, Relationships, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Dave  Smith

Biography

Poet, novelist, critic, and editor Dave Smith was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. The first member of his family to graduate from college, Smith received a BA from the University of Virginia, an MA from Southern Illinois University, and a PhD from Ohio University. Smith has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, including Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems 1992–2004 and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Trees & Flowers, Death, Youth, Living, Relationships, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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