Two Poems by Katherine Smith


Young women stood sentry,
one at each corner
of the chain link fence.
We adored them
in their blue skirts, 
white blouses,
our blond priestesses 
over morning:
beneath blue infinity,
we hung upside down,
let our hair fall,
brush the ground,
passed a glass jar
round a circle until cream 
curdled to butter. We
spun sugar to candy, 
mortared gingersnaps
to roofs. As the sun rose higher
they moved among us
placing graham crackers
in our palms, pouring milk
into paper cups 
by our crossed feet.
For a part of each day
they loved me,
one more child 
in Tennessee
who wasn’t going to hell,
which I was going to
definitely and forever
according to my friends
and their fathers.
I’d already decided 
I didn’t believe in hell.
But I definitely believed
in forever, which crept inside
the blue mats stacked
against the wall,
inside the blue-eyed teacher’s
whispered shush, shush
as I lay wide awake at nap time
pretending to sleep
on the floor under my blanket.


As a child, I never went inside 
the crumbling brick and flaking clapboard
churches of the Tennessee Valley
whose preachers’ furious sermons
I flipped through on television 
when the neighborhood kids were at church.  
Sundays after lunch, in their yards,
(they weren’t allowed in mine)
they’d tell me I was going to Hell,
impatiently as if asking me to play
a game whose rules they were explaining to an idiot.

Adult, the churches whose interiors I have visited are few,
mostly beautiful, ancient and special
churches with blue stained glass. 
In Reims the emperors and saints 
above the archway are cracked
as old bone, each relief chiseled high on its pedestal 
by the hand of a believer. Mold and damp
float through the transept, water-green 
as faith. Light refracts through blue windows
onto pews of stone or mahogany, 
onto tables of burning votives. I scan 
for clues the Madonna’s crazed glass eyes,
the Magdalene’s faded indigo blue.

Katherine Smith’s publications include appearances in Poetry, Cincinnati Review, Missouri Review, Ploughshares, Southern Review, and many other journals. Her short fiction has appeared in Fiction International and Gargoyle. Her first collection of poems is Argument by Design (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2013); her second book of poems is Woman Alone on the Mountain (Iris Press, 2014). She works at Montgomery College in Maryland. 

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