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Previous published in Poetry Northwest

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For more poetry

R.T. Smith


That Art Might Save a Few

Miss Harkness, bless her spindly frame
and icy hair, said poetry would make us more
alive, but we swapped gossip or watched the rain

graying the windows. A gentle spinster
thin as a mummy, she was the color
of faded paper and flinched like a bird.

She insisted Dickinson made poems from rigor
and need and a perfect spark. The words
had a lovers' quarrel with one another.
She called the famous recluse “Miss Emily”
and said the dark would soon be after us,
and we'd better lay aside dry tinder

for those times. We thought it made no sense
when she said those poems were precise
as a silver pillbox, that each one held a tempest.

We passed notes and whispered until the lights
flickered in the aftermath of thunder.
“Study the diction,” she advised and smiled,

ignoring the blackout, the ripping weather.
We hummed with the restlessness of a swarm.
“A quartz contentment,” “how frugal the chariot.”

She winked and said, “Acquire the appetite,”
said we should offer poems nothing less than our
most devout attention, if we would know the fire

from the alarm. And the sentences, “embraced
with a thinking heart, ”might yet render us
the most splendid animals in the storm.
Director - Distinguished Speakers Program SUNY Farmingdale carolus@optonline.net fishman@farmingdale.edu