is Professor of Psychology and Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California. Her first career was as a classical flutist. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as the Los Angeles Review, Copper Nickel, RHINO, The Cortland Review, and Poetry Northwest. Her chapbook, Slippery Surfaces was published by Finishing Line Press in 2019. You can find her at https://www.donnasmetz.com
(which is everywhere)
– after Psalm 84
Inside YOUR tents (which are everywhere)
YOU are passing out first aid kits, blankets, inhalers, taking on
YOUR many forms
that we are so slow to recognize
yet my heart
thinks it might be just fine
outside my body because all of it
yearns for YOU — my true north — my compass — how YOU pull
like a vortex, a tornado, but so much stillness
and in the eye of it
the sparrow makes her nest—deposits
her young as if safe because everywhere
because nowhere and now — how fragile YOUR endless
silence — the whirr of it (which is everywhere) –
the whirr of my prayers.
If praise is what YOU need, come
and get it — but please leave the bird
in peace — her eggs — our roundness
rolling through my heart’s
highways looking for signs
on how to use this strength that YOU
have provided —
enough to cross over to YOU
— the fragrant trees
I have so much to learn — the pain
YOU have provided
has honed my senses — I am here now.
YOUR rains (which are everywhere)
are harsh—I scamper
in YOUR deluge—and drenched.
before I enter YOUR sun—before
I need to be mindful
and upright—let me rest
in my imperfections
let me be wet and silent
at YOUR threshold (which is everywhere)
What we needed was impossible—to guard
the water—a hopeless task—to contain
that which flows, finds its way,
goes where it wills except
when blocked—oh dams, polders,
dikes, swales, berms—our weak wills
over water—the discussion
was one of summer—of the impinging
heat, the brown spots
on the lawn and if—in the middle of so much
death, might we be able to hold
it at bay, just in our garden? Borrow
a little more of God’s liquid
against our bankrupt flesh?
Water-thunder woke me at dawn—I thought
my husband had decided to water
the known world—our sprinklers in riot
mode—what we could ill-afford
but the ruckus was more—it was sky
unleashing late spring rains
a helluva racket—God
having finally decided.
Self-portrait inside the magnet with gods and Angels
—After Ellen Bryant Voight’s Sleep and Tracy K. Smith’s The Angels
another bang and hiss what proton doesn’t spin out of equilibrium?
the metal in my hip for instance
the books stacked on my couch I’m thinking
a lot about quiet translation there isn’t much in my life
there is commotion right here the gradient coils vibrate the MRI technician
interrupts my thoughts to let me know the next acquisition window will be four minutes long
the coils vibrate, knock and bang and sigh I am enclosed forever
in this scanner I need to get out so that I can exercise more drink less
it is quite close in here I think I could actually die here
I could lose my flesh
probably not unheard of I am conversing with certain gods the ones
who only notice the ‘brief bright flares of human will’ and then
do what they can to extinguish those flares I am thinking that I need new gods
those Angels that smelled of rum and slung themselves
across the chairs once in the poet’s hotel room while she slept just as I
doze now disrupted straining against the pull of the magnets
against all that is holy they brought solace but they only do that
once you know and after that you are on your own left looking for them
for the duration left thinking back to when you might have missed them
in your life, I’m thinking now maybe I saw their traces
in the brilliant flash of sea caught in my daydreaming out the window
of my old apartment, or in the scent of honeysuckle once as I walked the dog,
in the shape that shifts quick sometimes when I wake in the night
and what about these messages they might be important they might be faint
whispers of youth it turns out I am straining towards
not against I am straining to decipher numinous messages
that are surely hidden in these thumping clanking pulses of electricity
My study window looks onto the back porch, our two new whitewashed eucalyptus chairs drenched in sun – too soon in the day for shadow there – too hot yet to sit.
In the early evening, I retreat to my study, longing for privacy, but my view is of my husband sitting in one of those chairs, dear, yet too close, his slightly unruly greying beard, the same jeans he has been wearing for most of the pandemic.
Three days ago, my daughter and her husband sat in those same chairs, the afternoon shade shielding her sensitive skin, their blue masks
protecting us from each other – so hard to understand her from across the yard, her face hidden – her mouth swathed in blue silence
I love you with the deepest possible blue
I am helpless in the face of your face.
Chairs, the thrones of our abyss – pillows against the chafe of the wooden slats – we crown each other with partial attention – we have become unused to presence. Privacy isn’t really as precious as I thought – it’s the intimacy that is so demanding – the slats of it pressing up against the weight of our thighs.
Praying to Saint Rita
She’s the patron saint of lost
causes, of the impossible.
—we get the giggles.
On either side of the altar
statues shrouded in purple,
like mirrors in our Shiva houses.
What we share with the angels
is this: we are called upon
to love a God who doesn’t deign
to protect us or is helpless
to do so.
Our faith is knit together
with leftover snow
discarded umbilical cords.
The rites of passage, final words,
minor scales practiced for a lifetime.
The pastor says we are
conjured in our mothers’ wombs
God meets us there
and that’s what starts
He says: if you are
not from this tradition
but would like to receive a blessing
stand and approach me with your hand
over your heart
so that I know what to give you.
I’ll take any blessing
I can get—
I pop up like toast.