Talking among Ourselves

By Charlie Smith b. 1947 Charlie Smith
In the rental cottage it comes to me,   
how the four lives of myself
and my brothers
like tracer bullets,
and how, from a distance maybe,
if you had the right kind of glasses,   
there might appear to be a target   
we all were aiming at
beyond that black escutcheon of cloud   
above Santa Rosa Bay
as we lie on the deck
drinking tequila and beer,
our voices growing vague and weary   
as time passes, until one of us
tells a story, more cordial than precise,   
about climbing to the top of a magnolia tree   
when he was ten, and falling. The rest of us   
draw closer around the story
as we watch the great flattened cloud   
raise its triangular wing
over the state of Florida. It is night   
in Florida
and, in a moment, one of us will recall   
the time our father, in a gray suit,   
climbed the steps of an airliner   
bound for Paris
and never came back. And one, or another,   
will tell how our mother, more blond   
and beautiful than ever
that spring, said,
You must now be soldiers,
and screamed and screamed. We will each
raise his head
and stare for a moment through the lighted gate
of the living room window
at our wives,
who are putting away the last of the supper dishes,   
speaking among themselves   
with the easy familiarity of women   
whose husbands
are brothers. And one of us will begin so sing
an old song
that our father sang
before he went away, a song   
about losing a fair woman
in the foggy, foggy dew,
and as the late chill rises off the bay   
we will all remember
what we thought as children
when we heard him sing of the woman   
who was not, and never could have been,
our mother
and of how an emptiness,
bigger than an ocean,
opened inside us, and one of us   
will say, I think it is going to rain,   
and we will get up
and go back inside.

Charlie Smith, “Talking Among Ourselves” from Red Roads (New York: Dutton, 1987). Copyright © 1987 by Charlie Smith. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Red Roads (Dutton, 1987)

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Poet Charlie Smith b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living, Separation & Divorce

 Charlie  Smith


Poet and novelist Charlie Smith was born in Moultrie, Georgia. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and, after serving in the Peace Corps in Micronesia, earned a BA from Duke University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. He has written five New York Times Notable Books and has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He has also won the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living, Separation & Divorce

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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