Austin Robert Smith

Austin Robert Smith

Austin Smith grew up on a family dairy farm in Illinois. He is the author of two poetry collections, both published through the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets: Almanac and Flyover Country. The recipient of an NEA Fellowship and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in prose, he teaches at Stanford University, and lives in Pescadero, CA.

Country Things

Some days even nature seems sinister. Walking around the farm with a beer, Seeking some solace after the evening news, You meet the cat you love coming back From the windbreak, a rare songbird
In his mouth. In the mulberry branches The silkworms writhe in nests that, backlit By twilight, look like X-rays of lungs.
In the pasture the cow kicks at her calf
And won’t let her nurse, while in a seam
Of gleaming honey in the oak that lightning
Cleaved the queen daintily eats her offspring. In the rafters of the barn the starlings are Pushing the owls’ eggs out of the nest,
While the owl herself is out hunting. Going in, you nearly step on a swarm
Of ants ravishing a butterfly like people Tearing a capsized ship down, its wings
Like torn sails, and the first thing you hear When you enter the kitchen is the snap
Of the mousetrap you set this morning, Tired of being kept awake all night
By their scratching in the walls. And so You are met with your own small act
Of cruelty, your contribution to the whole. With a pair of pliers that are themselves Always biting something, you take
The broke-necked mouse by the tail
And throw it into the darkening yard, Never knowing that in favor of it the cat
Let go of the bird, who was only stunned, And whose song you woke to this morning.

Film of the Building of a Coffin Viewed in Reverse

The little tacks that pinned the satin in fall out
like baby teeth. The satin passes back through
Its fantasy of becoming a prom dress: it returns
Totally to the silkworms in the mulberry.
The pillow blows apart and the down darts
Back into the plucked goose. The black lab
Swims backwards with the bird in his mouth:
The goose flutters up into the sky and flies
Backwards with the flock into the north country
As the shell inhales the lead shot and the shell
Itself returns to the oiled dark of the gun.
The hammer kisses the nails back out of the wood.
The nails pass from his white lips to his dark pockets.
The screws spin out on the roads of brass
And the boards part ways. The boards, of heavy
Ash, lay stacked along the wall for a night.
The hands of the clock over the workbench
Spin wildly counterclockwise. Come morning
The boards return to the mill and converge
Into trees that float back into the woods
In search of their stumps like the phantom
Limbs of amputees. They know which ones
Are theirs by the rings, swing up onto them
And heal. The birds that were scared off
By the roar of the chainsaw come back. The dead
Man gets up off the floor and his broken cup
Becomes whole again. He puts it to his lips
And fills it with coffee from his mouth,
Coffee that grows hotter and blacker.