By Charlie Smith b. 1947 Charlie Smith
At a small monastery—or what had been
a monastery—outside Obrégon, we stopped;   
you were suffering the hollow nausea of your first   
pregnancy, sleeping as best you could
through the thousand miles of pines
and rocky fields of northern Mexico, so I went ahead   
through the saddle-colored rooms, past
the broken church and the row of empty sheds,   
where Indian women, according to a sign,
once baked the flat bread called sapatos de Maria,
to a garden in the back, over the parapet of which
I could see the river through some willows: a rinsed   
bed of sand, dry now in winter.
                                                I didn’t want a child,   
and I was tired of closeness, tired
of being kind, so was glad to be alone
a while and lay down under a jacaranda tree,
and watched through leaves the changing pattern
of the sky, which I was tired of too, the scaly, stratospheric   
winter clouds, edged with light, like the tiny waves   
you pointed out, reflected on the bottom of a bridge   
we rowed under in a rented boat, the day you told me   
of the child—I was tired and slept.

It was nearly evening when I woke, two mestizo women   
hurried talking through the tulip beds, the sky was pale.   
They’d set small plaques among the plants,
naming them, the ornamentals and the fruit. Some,
so the writing said, were descendants
of the cuttings brought from Spain by monks;   
intermingled here—Pinot grape with ocotillo,   
damascena rose—they thrived. I thought of certain   
tenderness, and forbearance, a man might bring
to vines and simple vegetables, cultivated
in memory of his home perhaps, in a foreign place;   
and thought how sometimes what passes on from us   
has little to do with what we hoped, but nonetheless   
carries word of who we were and what we found.
For a moment then, among the arbors and the flower beds,   
I did not feel so distant from this time and place,   
and the edge of my own local fears began to dull.   
I plucked a sprig—a leaf was all—
from a holly bush, and brought it out to you,   
a little stronger in a portion of myself, a little   
reconciled, though I couldn’t know then
that in a month we would lose the child,
and in time you would pass,
like a squandered fortune, from my life.

Charlie Smith, “Fortune” from Indistinguishable from the Darkness (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990). Copyright © 1990 by Charlie Smith. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Indistinguishable from the Darkness (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1990)

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Poet Charlie Smith b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Parenthood, Relationships, Men & Women, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, Life Choices

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 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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SUBJECT Living, Parenthood, Relationships, Men & Women, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, Life Choices

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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