lari  smith





The Red Maple



low sweeping branches thick with purple leaves

make a cave for the children

who run in and out

escaping with mock terror

the pursuing laughing boys


in the deep shade the grass is sparse

the dark shadows invite me too

as if there is a refuge there

a place from which to look out

and see the ocean and the sun

and not get burned



Together and Apart



Our feet entwine – cold toes seek warmth,

bodies touching at knees, hips, shoulders,

his calloused hand tenderly cups my breast,

the mythic shape, treasures the familiar prize.


My hand caresses the silkiness of inner thigh,

his skin that all those years have not made rough,

fingers slide across his old scarred

stomach, witness to those repairs, removals.


We sleep and turn and turn, always in touch,

his snores and nightmares bring a drowsy nudge

to send him spinning into deeper sleep.

My thoughts twist with my turning, skitter toward

and away from tomorrows, presence, absence.

I settle closely, wrapping him in my embrace.



The Concert



He is uneasy.

He has been told there will be music.

But when? Where?


Is it time to go now?

Reassurance doesnÕt reach him.

He will forget the question in a moment.


The friend arrives, tunes up her violin.


He is awake, even with his eyes shut

it is clear he is listening.

At each pause he applauds,

says ÒThat was great.Ó


The music stops, his head sinks,

eyes closed, he drifts away.


The past exists.

The present

has become timeless.







my fingers trace the shoulder wing

follow the string of buttons

         down the spine

         to hip and thigh


the loose skin shifts beneath my hand


the hot bag holds

the skeltal bits


ribs and hips poke

at their fevered cover


I skitter closer and retreat

imagining the bones


and no dear flesh






We walk in the glory of the fall leaves.

I brush away the acorns strewn everywhere

to make the path smooth for him.

Slowly, painfully, he gets to his feet

and begins to move.


It is no help to remind him Òone foot, then the other,Ó

how the body can step, balancing from side to side.

The words disappear into the maze of his mind.

But his muscles try to remember the pattern.

His thighs tense and tremble.


He tires and stops,

bound again to his wheelchair.

We sit in our circle of woods,

the beech tree gleaming in the autumn sun.



Beside a Sick Husband



Rough breathing

fills the silent room


her body

poised beside him

fight or flight



bring rescue from

exhausted sleep


When will

rough breaths


stop and start


and stop?






Though he no longer knows me

I tell him I love him.

The words fall into an empty space

where there is no longer speech.


He cries out at night. I take his hand;

we fall asleep.

When I wake him with a kiss on his forehead

and a kiss on his lips, sometimes he smiles.

Is this not love?


He sits in the sunny window.

Beyond the glass the birds

flutter at the bird bath, but he doesnÕt notice.

My chest is weighed down with loss.

         Is this not love?


We no longer try to walk him up and down

Because he falters and tires.

I am willing to let him go.

But for now I hold him safe and quiet.

         Is this not love?



Fixing  the Past



A brisk walk in the morning delighted him.

He asked me to come,

but it was hot and I was tired.

He walked without me.


The Ring cycle fascinated him,

But I had other music to learn,

 a book I was reading.

He listened alone.


He sat by the water drinking his wine,

late afternoons at the magic hour,

watching the dying sun flare on the white hulls.

But I was busy with supper and didnÕt join him.


I go down to the dock without wine

and watch the light fade

and think of him

in his wheelchair in the living room

vacantly facing the sea



The Tended Garden



the great clump, brilliant yellow,

of daylilies opened wide to the sun

and the blue tall lupine spears

that punctuate the golden explosion

mark the end of the lawn

of the carefully tended land


beyond it the wild roses cover the bank

rebellious and disorderly

tumbling down to the rocks

to the lines of seaweed


and the ocean coming and going



Old Music



The Haydn quartet came at me like an enveloping cloud

full of memory, all so familiar, all evoking the years past.

The strings resonated in my chest, not in my ears which

usually thrum to tell me how good it is.


No judgement was possible tonight. I was possessed.

And with the music came his voice,

commenting on the playing, ÒHey, thatÕs one terrific fiddler –

 lovely viola sound, thereÕs my favorite part.Ó


This music  played in our living room

a hundred times in all those many years.

They played, laughed, broke down at a hard spot,

started over with passion.


Maybe the vibrations in my chest went home to him,

lying in bed, silent and quiet. Maybe they sang to him,

bringing back his nature,

the spark that was his soul .






the rain has been steady for days

it flattens the ripples of the ocean

the lobster boats sit motionless

lined up obediently


the navigation buoys stand out sharply

against the slick surface


across the bay the gray water

merges with mist and colorless sky


the blank house windows stare


along the cove shore






No tears when he fell,

breaking his hip, lying in pain.


No tears when he woke up,

without speech, without understanding speech.


No tears when the dementia stayed,

though they said it was temporary.


But today my husband asked

"Who are you?"


Pushing my face into the pillow

I wept.






We sit in the warm afternoon sun.

The sand bar gleams.

The rocks show their teeth

almost to the green buoy.


Seagulls flash through the air,


the boats that slowly

turn in the tide.


In love with the wind,

he knew ledges,

where to find gooseberries,

where the herons nested.


He sleeps,

mouth open, eyes sunken,

on his last voyage,



Show and Tell



I bring in flowers every morning

lay out the deliciously hued day lily blossoms

on a clear glass platter

stand the pale blue Japanese iris

in an elegant narrow crystal holder

make a loose grouping of rosa rugosa, ajuga, ferns

in a bowl they had chosen in Greece


ÒArenÕt they lovely?Ó

Of course, he doesnÕt answer

or see the flowers

and there is no path to the memory

of when he selected them

and delighted in them in his garden






a death mask

eyes sunken

skin taut over cheekbones and chin


warm to the touch

I lay my hand on his heart

it drums against my flesh


Is this how it will end?

No struggle

No great letting go


My waking to the still

Chilled body beside me?









Pulls me this way and that

And I am to forget it

And enjoy the light while it lasts.


Mostly I do except


When the children are unkind to each other

Not seeing their brief time together

Not seeking shelter from the harm outside


When I walk in the garden and see his plants

And think of how he loved to see them flourish

And how he walked in the evening among the flowers


When everything shifts

And he no longer exists quietly,

Looking the same each day


But has entered that great slide away from us

Sliding a little farther each day

More skeletal, more remote, closer to the darkness.



After This Life    



He would have liked to live

To be one hundred but not like this,

This not-living, not-dying.


Paintings of deep religious feeling

Reached his core the way art can

But never tempted him


His rational mind saw nothing waiting

On the other side of the barrier

He will shortly cross


And he was ok with that

Though he remained so curious

As to how the future would work out


For him it all stops here

Nothing over this line

Except in memory




Calm Harbor      



Unwinding the tightly coiled spring

That I didnÕt know was there.

There is no center to circle round,

To tend, to worry over.

How strange to be unmoored..


Last night I slept unbroken hours.

I woke to no commitments—

Not thinking "up in time for—"

Whatever it might be,

Changing through the years.


The sun on seeps into my muscles—

Unfamiliar sense of letting go.

It doesnÕt matter now—take your time.

No one needs anything.

I have washed up on shore.



Absence Presence   



I think he is in the boat, coiling lines,

Sitting in sun—pondering string theory,

Or something else IÕve never understood.


ÒIf I wanted you to understand, I

I would have married a physicist,Ó

He said when I was young and puzzled..


He isnÕt really gone after all—

HeÕs just working in the garden,

Planning where to build a new deck.


Just because he isnÕt in sight

Has never meant heÕs not

Coming in to supper.


IÕll wait a while before setting the table.