And Finding No Mouse There

Poems by Vivian Smallwood
 

Negative Capability Press

Mobile, Alabama

1983
 

Copyright © 1983 by Vivian Smallwood

First Edition

Cover Design: Tom Woodward

Typeface: Baskerville II

Typography: M.A. Publishing

Printer: Thomson-Shore
 

The author wishes to thank the editors of the following publications in which some of these poems first appeared for their support and their permission to reprint the poems in this book: Alabama Sun, Alalitcom, Brief Encounters, Crossroads, Natlonal Federation of State Poetry Societies Prtze Winning Poems, Negati~e Capability, The Sampler, and The Village Post.

ISBN 0-942544-03-X (pbk) ISBN 0-942544-04-8 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 83-062019

For three little girls . . . . .

ViVi, Mary Ina and Sally
 

              Contents

         1

And Finding No Mouse There
Brief History
Brief Encounter With A Blackbird
The Descendant
At Olduvai Gorge
The Runners
The Participant
The Reunion
I Shall Pretend To Be Sleeping
Cave Woman
This Comfort
Night Watchman
The Quiet One
The Denial
The Wake
Resurrection Of A Poet
 

         2

Space Probe
Moon Walk
Moon Mother Speaks To Her Child
Voyager One
Island In The Bay
The Beachcombers
Summer Vacation
Sister Anne, Sister Anne
Jamie Dhu
Elizabeth And The Changeling
The Pixie At Hilton Hall
Haunted House
The Night
Nobody Walks Too Softly
Room 207
Senior Citizen
 

         3

Caleb's Account Of The Nativity
A Song Of Threes
And God Said, "Watch It!"
The Rejection
The Walled City
A Christmas Poem
Eutychus
About Adam
Adam At The Gates
The Fugitives
Stranger In The House
This Too Will Stand Recorded
 


           1

AND FINDING NO MOUSE THERE

There was this bit of dry bone on the sand.
The less-than-human skull which once had housed
A less-than-human brain was empty now
And open to the airs. How dead it was!
How polished by the wind and bleached by sun,
Unroofed, unshuttered, stripped and tenantless,
Impersonal as any stick or stone
I might have kicked in passing.
There it lay,
The relic of a summer barely gone,
And there was I, not quite a relic yet,
Peering into the windows of a mouse
And finding no mouse there.
What once had lived Its tiny life and died its tiny death
Beneath the fragile rafters of this room
Had known its last of self.
I sometimes think
(Perhaps because I have a larger skull)
That we are different, the mouse and I,
That something splendid in me will endure;
And then again, sometimes I am not sure
And lift a troubled hand to touch my head,
Still roofed, still shuttered, still inhabited.
 


        BRIEF HISTORY

After the first impossible event
Nothing would be impossible again.
After the first cell, frail and parentless,
Stirred into being on the shallow wave
There would be other cells, divergent ones,
Splitting and multiplying, taking shape,
Until the tepid waters swarmed with life.

After the cell, the seaweed and the worm,
The slow crustacean and the quick-finned fish,
A thousand thousand kinds of living things
Evolving through a million million years.
And some of these would venture to the shore,
Crossing the beaches, clinging to the rocks,
Mating beneath a huge, primeval sun
And scooping out their nests among the stones.

Earth would yield slowly, but the earth would yield.
After the seaweed there would be the fern,
Rough-veined and sticky, bearing in its spores
A prophecy of leaf and stem and flower.
After the scaly fish, the feathered bird
And armored reptile and the hairy shrew,
And written in the very bones of these
The promise of a creature yet to come.
In the vast womb of time the embryo
Of thinking man would struggle toward his birth.

Nothing would be impossible again,
Language nor laughter, love nor hate nor war.
There would be paintings in the caves of France
And temples on the seven hills of Rome.
There would be cities linking coast to coast,
Air-ways and sea-ways linking pole to pole,
And someday even a narrow passageway
Between the shrinking planet and the moon.

There will be other afters after this,
Perhaps a final after.
Even now Bewildered man, pressed back against his wall,
Outraged and threatened by his brother man,
Ponders the weapon which he fears to use,
And even as he ponders, picks it up
And puts it down and picks it up again.


BRIEF ENCOUNTER WITH BLACKBIRD

The blood of dinosaurs is in his veins,
And in my veins the less impressive blood
Of some lean, snuffling cousin of the shrew.
We eye each other prudently across
A dozen bricks and sixty million years.

We have not always shared a patio,
A trellis and a square of morning sun,
Nor do we share them easily today,
For in a dusty crevice of my mind
I store the recollection of an age
When dragons roamed unhindered through the world;
And somewhere in his small, uncluttered brain
Is locked an ancient memory of one
Who darted from the shadows of the trees
And raised a cunning paw to fling a stone.


      THE DESCENDANT

I used to wonder sometimes why they stayed
Instead of going on or going back.
Behind them there was safety of a sort,
Ahead of them perhaps the Promised Land.
But here they raised their cabins, cleared their fields,
Swatted mosquitoes, slapped at yellow flies,
And plowed their sandy acres. Here they died.
Their wooden crosses rotted on the hill
And disappeared beneath the kudzu vine.

I learn to love the things they used to love,
The soughing of the pines beneath the stars,
The humming of the earth beneath my feet.
It is, perhaps, a slower thing for me,
But now I too am captive of the land
That held them captive, and I understand.


     AT OLDUVAI GORGE

When the grey skull is loosened from the rock,
And all the bare, humiliated bone
Is spread out like the workings of a clock,
The secrets which it kept are still its own.
The passions of the dangerous, brief day
Furrowed the brow but left no lasting mark.
The terrors of the night were sloughed away
And vanished in an even vaster dark.
Whatever brought the creature to this place—
Anger or lust or fear or simple need—
Is not recorded on the fleshless face
Which stares unblinking from the desert weed.
Time sighs a moment in the hollowed head
But speaks no good, no evil, of the dead.


          THE RUNNERS

We run because we have no place to hide.
An alien race will know we watched the clock
And measured off the miles and gasped and died.
All this will be recorded in the rock.
Tick tock, click clack,
Scurry, scurry, scurry!
"What were they rushing to or rushing from?
Why did they hurry so?"
Perhaps we dare not pause to look behind;
Perhaps we dare not pause to look ahead.
Abel is dead, and God is not deceived.
We run because we have no place to hide.


    THE PARTICIPANT

I am a part of something big.
Dust that is now my dust was blown
Through the corridors of the pyramids
Before the final stone was placed.
My blood has raced with the Amazon
And surged in the tides of the Yellow Sea.
My bones were sketched when the world was new
And etched on the ocean floor

Everything everywhere touches me.
The smallest beetle is my affair,
And the oldest man, and the youngest child.
When pink flamingos feed at dawn
In the shrinking marshes of Bangladesh
I too am fed. When the polar bear
Claws at the bullet in her flesh,
And her young ones crouch in the growing chill,
I am not quite what I used to be,
I am less than I was before.

Just where I stand in the grand design
Whatever the grand design may be,
I do not know and I cannot guess,
But I give and take with a careful hand,
And I watch the world with an anxious eye,
For I share in the life of all who live
And the death of all who die.


                THE REUNION

So here we are, the two of us, the two of us alone.
We share a common plot of earth, we share a common stone.
The worm that grazes near my door has double pasture now,
The beetle digging overhead has twice the land to plow.
We lie upon our narrow cots, apart and yet so near,
If I should knock against my wall I think that you would hear.
If you should sigh or call my name beneath the bitterweed,
Though I grow fond of quietness I think that I would heed,
Because we once lay flesh to flesh, who now lie one and one,
Beneath a firmament of grass, beneath a granite sun.


"I SHALL PRETEND TO BE SLEEPING"

I shall pretend to be sleeping, just for a day or two,
While living is still a habit and death is so strange and new.
Propped on my smooth white pillow under the quilted grass
I shall pretend to be dreaming, hoping the dream will pass.
Maybe a little later, after the roses fade
And the earth begins to settle, I shall not be afraid.
Maybe a little later, I shall be glad to go
Silently into silence, but just for a day or so
I shall be lonely and frightened, waiting for dawn to break,
Pretending that I am sleeping, wishing that I might wake.


              CAVE WOMAN

If some day you should dig among the stones
That lose their edges by an inland sea,
And bring to light these poor, untidy bones,
All that is left of this most mortal me,
Though you should weigh and measure what you find,
And figure out my size and guess my years,
You will not know the workings of my mind,
You will not know that I had hopes and fears.
Nor will you know that even when the ice
Came to the valley, and the world grew numb,
When people died for lack of nuts and rice,
And game moved out, and summer would not come,
I found a blackened flower in the snow
And brought it home and tried to make it grow.


         THIS COMFORT

There will be life along this sunny hill
When I have sighed and found a darker place.
The mouse will gather grain, the bee will spill
Her bits of pollen on the Queen Anne's lace.
The snail will move from grass to greener grass,
The rolypoly crawl from stone to stone.
The locust will discard his tarnished brass
And disappear on errands of his own.
Life will go on, as busy and as bold
As it has always been.
The seed will fall,
The root claim pasture, and the twig unfold,
And I shall be remembered in them all—
Locust and mouse and bumblebee and stem,
Forever part of me and I of them.


    NIGHT WATCHMAN

I have no plan to wait around for death.
Death, when he finds my door,
Will have to call not once but three times over.
I shall be somewhere doing something else—
Inspecting daisies, maybe, on a hill,
Or combing through the weeds or counting stars
Or herding midges down a country lane.

These are important projects, after all,
Not lightly taken up nor laid aside.
Somebody has to keep an eye on things.

Who knows what petty thief is on the prowl,
Snatching a daisy here, a daisy there,
Or pilfering along the Milky Way?
Who knows what rascal wind assails the wing,
What alien armies infiltrate the grass?

In such a crazy, mixed-up world as this
Somebody needs to watch what's going on.

Death has his job to do, but I have mine.
He keeps commitments, but I keep mine too,
And one of us will have to yield a bit.
I come of stubborn stock
And may not heed his first nor second call.
Indeed, I may not answer him at all.


   THE QUIET ONE

I grow accustomed to the stone,
Accustomed to the grass.
In solitary state I lie
And hear the stranger pass.

He does not pause beside my hill
Nor stoop to read my name,
And I am glad that he goes by
As quickly as he came.

For I grow used to loneliness.
The footsteps come and go
And I lie here beneath the grass
Content to have it so.


          THE DENIAL

You are not here.
The stone that bears your name
Is only stone, carved by a foolish hand
In ignorance or jest, a thing of shame
Propped on a hillside in a wasted land.
Whatever lies at length beneath this clay
Is not the flesh and bone that I hold dear.
I touch the starveling weed and turn away.
You are not here. You never have been here.
Though others climb this hill with measured pace
And stoop to read your name and cry aloud,
I shall not look in this unlikely place
For one so young and beautiful and proud.
I turn my back upon the marble lie.
You are not dead. I will not let you die.


RESURRECTION OF A POET

Heaven flared up
Like a candle lit
And there I stood
In the heart of it.

There in the heart
Of a clean, bright flame
I heard a voice
And it spoke my name.

I looked to the left
And I looked to the right
And I saw God's saints
All robed in white.

From left to right
And all around
His white-robed saints
Looked back and frowned.

At me and my shirt
That was wild as sin,
And my crazy boots
With the soles danced thin.

Beyond their faces
I saw a Face
And I wanted to flee
From that holy place.

But clear as the sound
Of a silver chime,
I heard my name
For the second time.

I heard my name,
And the voice said, "Stay,"
And the saints moved back
To clear the way

When the Son of God
Left His golden throne
To welcome me
As His very own

"Come in, come in!
There is nothing here
That a wandering bard
From earth should fear.

"I was a mortal
Once like you,
A vagabond
And an outcast too.

"I took my chances,
I cut my loss
And I died at last
On a common cross.

"But I went to a wedding,
I went to a feast,
And I was a poet
As well as a priest."

He clasped my hand
And the saints closed in
And took my measure
From head to chin.

They gave me wings
Of the finest down
And fitted my head
With a jeweled crown.

They brushed away
At the dust and dirt,
But I kept my boots,
And I kept my shirt,

And I kept the songs
I had brought with me
From the misty mountains
Of Tennessee.


         THE WAKE

After a while they will go away
With their trays of food and their pleasant faces.
After a while I can wash the vases
And close the door that is still ajar.

What do they think that doors are for?
Maybe something needs shutting out,
Maybe something needs shutting in,
Something that they don't know about
And haven't the right to know.
Whatever it is, it is up to me
To lift the latch or to turn the key,
To hold it or let it go.

Nothing but kindness brings them here,
Nothing but kindness makes them stay.
I tell myself how kind they are
But I watch their faces, I watch the clock.
I know what a door is for.



 
 
 

            2

                  SPACE PROBE

Hey, you out there!
You of whatever shape, whatever size,
With something that takes the place of hands and eyes,
Not hands and eyes at all—hey, you out there,
Are you looking for me?

Do you climb your highest hill and search the skies
For a hint that somebody somewhere lives and moves
And thinks brave thoughts and dies?
Do you shout at night
Through the infinite loneliness?
"Halloo! Halloo!"
Well, here I am, at the edge of the Milky Way,
Groping among the stars and shouting too.


             MOON WALK

How can we say that nothing was there,
That nothing stirred at the crater's rim
And saw us climb from our tilted LEM?
How can we know that we walked alone?
Maybe something not made like us,
Something not flesh and blood and bone,
Shimmered over the shimmering sand
Or burrowed under the silent stone.
Maybe something was well aware
That strangers falling from outer space
Had violated its holy place.

Nothing was there which we could name,
Nothing except the rocks and rilles,
The dusty valleys and dusty hills.
We saw no more than we came to see,
We found no more than we hoped to find,
But how can we know what raced ahead,
How can we know what lagged behind?
How can we of the cool, green earth
Know what the moon might bring to birth?
Nothing was there which we could name,
But something was watching, just the same.


MOON MOTHER SPEAKS TO HER CHILD

You may come out now. They have gone away
And all the lovely moon is ours once more.
The rocks hold fast, the mountain ridges stay,
The hills are fastened to the valley floor,
And once again the sky is black and bare.
The wandering star has gone the way it came
And those who almost tracked us to our lair
Have vanished with the dust storm and the flame.
Time drifts toward time, unshaken, unreproved.
You need not fear the scratches on the stone,
The furrows in the sand, where shadows moved
Faster than any shadows we have known.
A thousand thousand years will leave small trace
Of those who once profaned our holy place.


            VOYAGER ONE

From brash beginnings—from the derring-do
Of the first gasping fish that left the seas,
The desperate bravado of the shrew
Who ventured to the fields beyond the trees,
From courage born of peril and despair
That brought the shabby creature to his feet,
The stubbornness that kept him standing there
Armed with a stone but ready for retreat—
From such beginnings, overreaching still,
He walks the moon and stirs the dust of Mars
And sends across the vast galactic hill
His first audacious message to the stars
Stranger in space, wherever you may be,
My name is Adam. Take a look at me.


          ISLAND IN THE BAY

Things come together so.
Our yesterdays,
Our vague tomorrows, crowd into a space
No larger than this room, and meet and merge
Directionless as August butterflies.

Small wonder that a name escapes us now,
A face is lost among so many faces,
A voice slips by unheard.
We nod at noon
And lie awake at night and watch the clock.
Small wonder that we are obsessed by time
When time is all around us, closing in.

Remember when the island in the bay
Was small and dim and half the world away?
Today we see a house, a clump of trees,
A picket fence we never saw before.
Perhaps we grow far-sighted with the years;
Perhaps the island too is closing in.

Thank God we are together, you and I.
Here in our corner, backs against the wall,
We brush aside the blurred, untidy wings
That beat against us so, and when I say,
"The island in the bay is nearer now,"
You place your hand a moment on my hand
And do not smile, because you understand.


   THE BEACHCOMBERS

We piled our treasures on the beach
Beyond the tumbling water's reach—
Round sand dollars, flecked with foam,
Minted in dim coral caves
For the pockets of sea-kings;
Driftwood, with its honeycomb
Of barnacles stripped clean by waves
And bleached by sun; coquina wings
Colored like dawn and opened wide,
Bright relics of the motley band
Which found its shelter in the sand
Between the tideline and the tide.

We never really hoped to keep
The flood of sunlight and the sweep
Of amber waters for our own.
We never really hoped to stay
The golden currents of the day.
We only gathered what we could
And watched without too much surprise
When twilight crested on the dunes
And summer drowned before our eyes.



 

    SISTER ANNE, SISTER ANNE

Believe it or not, I found some bones in a basket
Hidden under the stair.
I haven't quite dared to ask where they might have come from
But I never forget they are there.

Sometimes at night I listen and think I hear them
Jostling among themselves.
It is only a mouse, I know, on her dreary errands,
Prying about the shelves.

Only a mouse—but I lie awake and shiver,
Hearing that odd, dry stir,
Thinking that maybe the bones downstairs grow restless
And wondering whose they were.


      JAMIE DHU

When Jamie Dhu went fishing
The grass was showing green,
And down below the levee
He met the fairy queen.
Her skin was white as marble,
Her hair was bright as gold,
But her eyes were flecked with silver
And pitiless and cold.

The next time he went fishing
The grass-tops reached his knees,
And the fairy queen was watching
From a clump of willow trees.
Her skin was warm as coral,
Her hair was all aflame,
But her eyes were cool as silver
When she called him by his name.

Now Jamie Dhu goes fishing
And the levee grass has thinned.
The fairy queen is waiting
Where the willows catch the wind.
Her skin is smooth as velvet,
Her hair is soft as down,
But her eyes are pools of silver
Where a fisherman could drown.

He may struggle for his footing,
He may clutch at rock and reed,
But the fairy queen is smiling
Where the tall grass goes to seed,
And her eyes are flecked with silver
And pitiless indeed.


ELIZABETH AND THE CHANGELING

Elizabeth sang as she made the bed,
She sang as she swept the floor.
"Now surely mine is the finest child
That ever a woman bore.
His eyes are as blue as the Devon skies,
His hair is the color of grain,
And his skin is as fair as the hedgerow blooms
After an April rain."

The goblin crouched with her own dark imp
Under the prickly furze.
"The woman will boast a little less
If I swap my child for hers!"
She slipped like dusk through the cottage door,
She crept to the trundle bed,
And she stole Elizabeth's first-born son
And left her own instead

The changeling croaked like a little frog
When he found himself alone.
Elizabeth took him to her breast
And nursed him like her own.
"He is a wee thing, after all,
And he clamors to be fed.
May she who left her child with me
Give breast to mine," she said.

The goblin crouched with Elizabeth's babe
Under the prickly furze.
"The woman nurses my little elf
As tenderly as hers!"
She crept like dawn through the cottage door,
She stooped at the trundle bed,
And she put the fair-haired baby back
And took her own instead.

The sunlight lay on the Devon fields,
And the hedgerow swarmed with bees.
Elizabeth sat by the kitchen fire
With her first-born on her knees.
"Now surely this is a happier day
Than ever I knew before."
And the goblin watched from the prickly furze
But never came through the door.


THE PIXIE AT HILTON HALL

At Hilton Hall, while the master slept
With the mistress at his side,
While the wind blew cold from Devon Heights
And the kitchen embers died,
While the servants frolicked below the stairs
Or flirted behind the doors,
The Pixie crept from his chimney nook
To finish the evening chores.

He cleared the table and swept the hearth,
He polished the wooden spoons,
And he danced a jig on the mantel shelf,
Humming his pixie tunes.
The servants laughed at the noise he made
And the mistress woke and frowned,
But Ellen peeped through the kitchen door
As he flung the pots around.

She saw that his jacket was patched and old
And his stockings were wearing thin,
So she cut and stitched a little green suit
And left it near his den.
For Ellen was new to the servants' hall
And new to the Pixie's way.
She never guessed that he worked for fun
And he would not work for pay.

The Pixie crept from his chimney nook
And smirked at the nice, new clothes.
He thrust his arms through the jacket sleeves
And tugged at the tiny hose.
"How fine I am! How fine I am!
Too fine to sweep the floor!
You may keep the kitchen clean yourself
For I shall drudge no more."

Now the master sleeps at Hilton Hall
With the mistress at his side,
And the ashes cool on the greasy hearth
After the flames have died.
The servants tackle the pots and pans
And polish the wooden spoons,
And the Pixie hides in his chimney nook,
Humming his pixie tunes.


            HAUNTED HOUSE

                                           1.

                               The Morning

I should have known before I bought the place:
Something was here that had no right to be,
Something that slithered through the Queen Anne's lace
Or lurked among the shadows of the tree.
The sparrow was too silent in the vines,
The lizard was too wary on his stem.
I should have known that these were evil signs;
I should have given greater heed to them.
And yet the house seemed innocent enough,
Not sorry for my coming, though the door
Lagged at the sill, and all the dreary stuff
Of other lives was scattered on the floor.
The morning sun made patchwork on the wall.
This was no Bluebeard's castle, after all.

                                2.

                        The Night

Too many shapes are on the wind tonight,
Too many voices crowd the troubled air.
Small matter that the rooms are filled with light;
Beyond the light the ghosts are everywhere
They whimper on the sagging patio
And try the knob and tap against the pane.
They sigh and call a name I do not know,
Then wander off and wander back again.
I wish that I could tell them how it is—
The one they seek has died or gone away,
The house is mine, and nothing here is his.
There is no reason now for them to stay.
No matter what he did, I have my rights
And ought to be allowed some peaceful nights.


NOBODY WALKS TOO SOFTLY

Nobody walks too softly through the swamp;
Nobody wants to find what might be found.
The shyest lovers raise their voices here
To advertise their presence on the path,
The boldest schoolboy whistles over-loud,
And something slips like shadow from the log
Or stirs like wind among the flags and ferns,
Something—not frog nor fawn nor dappled snake—
That fades into the reeds without a sound,
That sees and is not willing to be seen.

Grendel is dead. Pan's evil yellow eyes
Narrowed to nothingness long years ago.
The Nissi's cold white fingers dropped their spell.
But God knows what still rises from the pond
And shakes the fetid water from its thighs
To stretch its bones beneath the jimson weed.
God knows what answers when the bobcat cries.
Nobody wants to take it by surprise.


              ROOM 207

This is the cleanest room I ever had—
A bed, a chest of drawers, an easy chair,
A picture on the wall, a potted plant,
And up and down the hall a dozen rooms
As clean and bare and bright....

There ought to be
An attic for the things that have no place
In such a place as this—the odds and ends
That last too long, the clutter of the years,
Too old to keep, too dear to throw away.
There ought to be a cellar for the graves
Of everything we murdered in our youth.
There ought to be a place....

My daughter says
You have to talk to plants to make them grow.
I watch the philodendron on the sill
And talk to it the way they talk to me.

"Good morning, Philly, how are we today?
And are we ready for our nice, warm bath?
Our vitamins? Our prunes? Our toast and tea?
Let's wear the pretty dress your daughter brought,
The one with lace, that buttons down the back.
Just raise your arms a bit—how sweet you look!
Don't you go flirting with the doctor now!

The philodendron shivers in the sun,
Pressing its skinny leaves against the glass
And reaching toward the hedgerow and the sky.
Today, if they should come to water it,
I think I'll say I've watered it already,
And I shall never talk to it again.
One thing I know, if I know nothing else,
A philodendron has the right to die.


        SENIOR CITIZEN

If no one were looking, I know what I'd do.
I'd run
Faster than anyone, no matter who,
Just for the fun of the thing.
I'd leap over fences and rip through the weeds,
Scattering thistle and sunflower seeds,
Chasing the rabbit and chasing the wind
And racing my shadow.
What fun it would be, With nothing and nobody faster than me.

If no one were listening, no one at all,
I know what I'd do.
I'd shout.
I'd call to the beetle and call to the bird,
To everything scaly or feathered or furred.
Just for the fun of the thing
I ' d shout .

But people would hear me, and people would see.
They would peep through their windows and talk about me.
"She has gone just a little too far," they would say.
"Do you think it is time that we put her away?"

Oh, there isn't a doubt.
They would put me away like a bug in a box
And I'd never, no never, get out.

So I sit on the porch and I look at my shoes
And I wait for my tea and the six o'clock news.


3

CALEB 'S ACCOUNT OF THE NATIVITY

Some forty years ago it was,
My brother Josh and I
Were wakened by a blazing star
That filled the eastern sky;

And suddenly, below the star,
We heard the angels sing:
"All glory be to God on high
And to the new-born king."

You l never saw a night likc that,
So full of light and sound.
The cherubim and seraphim
Were wheeling all around.
The shepherds left their midnight fires,
The herdsmen left their tents,
And hastened into Bethlehem
To seek the little prince.

Then wise men came by caravan
From lands beyond the sun,
With gold and frankincense and myrrh
For God's Appointed One.
We followed them across the town,
And while their trumpets blew
They knelt before the baby's crib,
And Josh and I knelt too.

"And after that, what happened?"
Well, You know how people are.
At first we listened to the song,
At first we watched the star,
And then the shepherds sought their fIocks,
The wise men turned aside,
And when the rooster clapped his wings
The baby woke and cried.

"And then, what happened after that?
Not much of anything.
The baby grew to be a man
But never was a king.
He rounded up some followers
And roamed the countryside,
And some folks say he lives today
But some folks say he died.


    A SONG OF THREES

There were three who swung from the gallows tree
Before the day was done.
One was a murderer, one was a thief,
And one was God's own son.

They stirred a bit in the stirring wind
And the ropes moved to and fro,
While the ravens circled the gallows tree
And the ants lined up below.

Three mothers wept in the trampled grass
Before the day was done—
One for a murderer, one for a thief,
And one for God's own son.

And God from His heaven looked down, looked down,
And wept for each of the three
Who spread their love like winding sheets
Under the gallows tree.


AND GOD SAID, "WATCH IT!"

And God said, "Listen, you are not alone.
I still have other kettles on the flame,
Suns that were bright before yours ever shone,
Worlds that were old before yours had a name.
And I have children, flesh of my own flesh,
Who never brought such offerings as these,
Your wars, your Buchenwald, your Bangladesh,
Your blackened jungles and your dying seas.
I shall not always turn the other cheek
Nor make excuses for your foolish ways.
What I created in one holy week
I can destroy in less than seven days.
I never have been happy with this star,
So watch it!" God said. "You can go too far."


THE REJECTION

I can remember when the world was flat.
It hung mid-center of the universe,
The only world in all of God's creation;
And I, of all His creatures set apart,
Flesh of His flesh and heart of His own heart,
Stood hand in hand, most comfortably, with Him.

Who would have thought so much could change so soon?
I barely noticed when the galaxies
First loomed beyond the ranks of seraphim,
When the great sun became a dying star
Caught in the fringes of the Milky Way.
The world grew round, and God released His hand
And wandered off on errands of His own.
I barely noticed till I stood alone,
But I remcmbcr how I called His name
Thinking He might come back.
He never came.


THE WALLED CITY

In marble condominiums
The prosperous and the great
Await the resurrection.
The paupers also wait
In less pretentious housing
Beneath the bitterweeds
And find their dingy cellars
Sufficient for their needs


  A CHRISTMAS POEM

When Christ was born in old Judea
Two thousand years ago
The stars were bright above the hills,
The fields were bright below,

And deep among the olive groves
A sparrow cocked his eye,
Awakened by the angel-song
That swept across the sky.

The ancient stars are dimmer now,
The fields are dark below;
The sparrow slipped into the dust
Two thousand years ago,

But still, above Judean hills,
The patient angels sing
And wonder why we wait so long
To seek the little King.


             EUTYCHUS*

Eutychus slept propped on the window sill
Because the seats were taken, over-tired
With so much thinking, so much listening,
And Paul talked on and on. The room was full
Of words that ceased to sting and only droned
Like summer bees among his father's corn.
The lamplight flickered and the night grew chill
And Eutychus went tumbling from the sill.

Perhaps the mind can only hold so much
Before it closes in upon itself.
Such talk of love, forgiveness, charity,
A man could grapple with and half-believe,
But resurrection—that unlikely word
Which kept the elders fastened to their chairs—
Might well befuddle one who had but come
To while away an hour and then go home.

*Acts: 20


             ABOUT ADAM

The seas drew back, but not because of him.
The mountains rose and fell and rose again.
The beaches widened, perilous and grim,
And life moved out to touch the lifeless plain.
But not because of him the mosses crept,
The snail inched forward and thc fish found wings.
In the dark womb of time the man-child slept,
Less than a cipher in the sum of things.
And when the man, grown old and past his prime,
Slips back into the mists which hid his birth
The galaxies will tick away their time,
Unshaken by his hour upon the earth.
The hills will level out, the seas will rise
And hide the ruined valley where he lies.


    ADAM AT THE GATES

Perhaps it was too soon to stand erect, '
To claim dominion over land and sea
And name the beasts and give myself a name.
Perhaps I was not ready, after all,
To bear the strange, new burden of a soul.

Yet who would think a soul could weigh so much?
I pulled it from the green, forbidden bough
And held it in the hollow of my hand,
So small a thing, but heavy even then
And heavier with every passing year.
Perhaps I should have dropped it where I stood
And sought again the safety of the brush,
The dark, accustomed shelter of the wood.

Now at the gates of Eden, looking back,
I see the fields and flowers forever lost,
I hear the lean snake hissing in the weeds,
And in my hand I hold the bitter fruit
I picked too soon and cannot put aside.


      THE FUGITIVES

Cain killed Abel A long time ago,
Killed him in the pasture
Where the flag lilies grow,
Lured him to the pasture
And struck him with a stone
While the cows stood watching
And the sheep looked on.

God saw Cain
From His window in the sky,
Heard his shout of anger,
Heard his brother's cry;
And God saw Abel,
With the gash across his head,
Lying in the lilies
By the cattle shed.

"Cain," asked God,
"Where can Abel be?"
"Am I my brother's keeper
That you should question me?"
"Cain," said God,
"I have seen him where he lies.
His blood is on your forehead
And the guilt is in your eyes. "

Cain killed Abel
A long time ago.
I too have killed my brother
Where the blue flags grow,
And Cain and I are fleeing
Through his dark and lonely lands
With the blood upon our foreheads
And our weapons in our hands.


STRANGER IN THE HOUSE

But Lazarus is dead. We saw him die,
Wept as he struggled, wept when he grew still.
We heard the first investigating fly
Buzz heavily across the windowsill.
We remember the fly,
the oils and the spices,
the cool linen shroud
and the burial stone .....
Then what is this that shuffles through the rooms
And shares our bread and meat and speaks no word?
The face is like the face of Lazarus
But Lazarus is dead. We saw him die.


THIS TOO WILL STAND RECORDED

We cannot read the moment, after all.
Too much has gone before, too much will follow,
And this is out of context, like a word
Taken at random from a book of words.
Nothing has meaning of itself alone.
We may not say that this is good or bad,
Only that what is written in our flesh
Is chiseled on the granite cliff of time,
And some day when the final hieroglyph
Completes the final, unimagined truth,
This too will stand recorded in the rock
And can be read, if there are eyes to read i


Vivian Smallwood was born in Vinegar Bend, Alabama. She lived most of her life in Chickasaw, Alabama. She was the recipient of numerous poetry awards including the Grand Prize of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Competition in 1972, the Wilory Farm Poetry Contest, and the World of Poetry first place award in 1983. She was the author of Window to the South. She died of cancer in 1994.