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Autumn Drab

Even the sassafras withholds
its scarlet candles this year,
shows a few leaves the colors
of biscuits. "What good is dying
if it can't bring beauty?" I said
to my slim wife, who laughed
on her way out the door to jog.
Only the pokeweed, whose ugliness
my sickle spared in June,
lights the yard.

                        Junk plant, gaudy
prankster, lusty hustler, it wears
its tacky ephemera like those women
I saw flying in the blaze of my childhood
who caught the trapeze swinging in my chest,
how they cocked their hips
in their tattered robes after the crowds
had turned their backs on the shadows
where my drunk uncle made me shake
those strong, horny hands.

                                         They smelled
like the depressed animals in the sad
little zoos along the road to Florida.
Under her thick mortician's makeup
the blonde had a greenish half circle
beneath one eye. The redhead smiled
black teeth that made rottenness
rise from some fouled cavity
below my heart, whispered

                                         of men
who liked to put their heads in
the lion's mouth, men the cannon
spit in a glittering arc against the big top's
loftiest darkness.

                          Bony Uncle Gus
winked anyway and promised to return.
I don't know how high he flew with them
in their muscles and sequins. I know
he went on drinking himself into a rich
stench, that appalling man who always
made me feel afflicted with the sacred.

But I was talking about this drab autumn
in our quiet neighborhood, the flameless
maples, the oaks the colors of dung.
And about the pokeweed whose bright leaves
already begin to curl and wither. "Soon,"
I say to my love, all flushed and breathless,
"all its black-wine berries will be gone,
its arterial stems, its vaginal magentas
vanished into a delicate frost glinting like stars
in the sky under our feet." "What," she says,
smiling, "in the world are you talking about?"

Hell, I don't know. My lost past?
Our diminishing future? "Look,"
I say at the window. "Right now,
isn't it something? Nothing
but pokeweed."

By Ron Smith
Recipient of the 2005 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press
from Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005 by Ron Smith.
Copyright © 2007 by Ron Smith.

© 2006 Carole Weinstein. All rights reserved.