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Dave Smith

Dave Smith

Dave Smith's new collection of poems Come-Along: Poems 2005-2010 will appear from LSU Press in 2011. His previous books include Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry (essays, LSU, 2006), Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems, 1992-2004 (LSU, 2005), and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000 (LSU, 2000). He is chairman of The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

A Gift Boat

Mary Alice—was that her name?—my student, pink hair, a poet,
quoter of Coleridge, brought me to the strange craft
a wild storm, fizzling out, left in the marsh. She shrugged,
few rules out there. "You want it," she said, "it's yours."

A jet fighter's wing-tip fuel pod from the 50s. Silver hull
somebody'd halved, pine seat, bamboo mast, tube outrigger,
a tarp for sail, so light she whizzed like a dragonfly. But
no keel to steer, stick tiller, just the feel of moving to know

how to tack for wind, shooting away, losing all, working again.
You'd call me to supper, voice skating on that blue. I'd tiller
to shallows, throw my body over waist-deep, try to set up
angles wind might grip, what the fathers taught. You watched.

Soon I was circling, sliding, singing to trees, untranslated clouds,
gulls. Going deeper, I wasn't afraid I'd be becalmed or caught
by currents turning strong. Light, air, water worked with me
to make ideas, hours fly. Day after day this scooter showed

how to lean on tide and shadow and touch. I could not go fast
enough, far enough for its secrets. Then it was gone, random
storm, a night piling up driftwood, flood-slosh, as if new
rules dragged all away. I woke to a blown sparrow's corpse

afloat at the tie-post, rope limp as winter's hand empty, open.
How could I know in such love what is worthless? Eyes closed,
we swayed in moonlight, you, me, that no-cost skidder going
where we didn't know we could go, or zigzaging like sentences,

dizzied by wakes of schooled cruisers. Alone, then, you waited,
my hand waving for joy or despair, barely in sight, and all
you could see. A canoe like that—how could it last?—you said.
Gift of the little muse, whooshing circles, tangents like words.

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