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Cathie Sandstrom Smith's work has appeared in Solo, Lyric, Cider Press 
Review, Matchbook, So Luminous the Wildflowers and is forthcoming in 
Ploughshares and Runes. She was one of the winners in 1999 and 2003 of 
Poetry in the Windows, sponsored by the Lannen Foundation. She lives in 
Sierra Madre up against the San Gabriel Mountains, where she can be found 
hiking the Mt. Wilson trail most Saturdays.

Messages from Home 

Kokura, Japan, 1950

Brass eagles on their caps shone.
Brisk and powerful, they swung
my brother high above their heads
to make him laugh, bent down to me.
Know any new Japanese words?

Men in Air Force blue stopped in,
picked up meals my mother cooked:
whole turkey dinners they'd drop by parachute
over snow-drifted tents of olive green
where my father waited between battles.

Invited to stay, they never talked about 
the invasion at Inchon, nor mentioned
the capture of General Dean on the road
to visit his troops. When we lost ground
all the way back to Pusan, they were silent.

Instead, over highballs they talked whiskey,
the driest martini, shrimp and lobster
feasts at the Club, jazz. After pot roast
they told me about their own little girls
at home in Ohio, Kentucky, Texas; leaned

low over the table and laced their fingers
in front of them. Smiles just like you do. 
I'll bring you a picture of her. Photos
I never saw: men came to dinner
and never came back. 


Miracle Cleaners

Marty bags the rumpled shirts,
writes up the tickets,
switches on the trolley
to waltz the clothes
until my mine appear.
His pace eager and energetic,
so changed from the year
Julio died from AIDS.

He sails the filmy bag into my hands 
with a flourish and a smile.
I ask about his goldfish.
Another one died.
I mumble sympathies,
"Do you bury them?"

Oh no, he says cheerfully,
spreads his hands on the counter
and leans toward me.
I lay them between paper towels
'til they're completely dry.
I'm going to make a mobile
when I have enough.
You should see them,
The fins don't fade.

He raises an imaginary
fish between us:
body so thin and clear
light passes
right through.


Yorkshire Morning, Farmhouse

At the kitchen wiindow, I wait for the kettle
to boil. The house and barn almost attached, 
easier to tend the stock when Marston Lodge 
was still a working farm. Early morning sun
warms the shadowy byre, the steaming breath
of phantom cows almost visible. Looking up
I see the crossbeams numbered, Roman numerals
rough-chiseled at the mid-point. Each timber 
cut for the only place it could be.

At the baby's waking cries, I turn, mount
the stairs, leave behind the quiet order
of numbered parts, the ease of things fitting
into place. From here on, nothing predictable
but chaos and though I cannot know this yet,
threaded through the coming years of fragment, 
bright within me like a talisman, the image
of those hand-hewn rafters at first light.



Many years since a lover and now you
bring me ribboned boxes of sand-washed silk. 
Come, cover me with your great slow-beating wings.
Silken lingerie slides to deshabille. 

Bring me ribboned boxes of sand-washed silk.
Light as air, soft as the dust of moth-wing,
silken lingerie slides to deshabille, 
palest rose, cream, black. I shake out the folds.

Light as air, soft as the dust of moth-wing,
cool to the touch, smooth as the inside of your mouth.
Palest rose, cream, black, I shake out the folds,
imagine my skin this fluttering silk,

cool to the touch, smooth as the inside of your mouth.
Many years since a lover and now you
imagine my skin this fluttering silk.
Come, cover me with your great slow-beating wings


© 2002 Cathie Sandstrom Smith



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