Cup of thorns
glossy nuts like plump nestlings
Author Archives: Melissa Shaw-Smith
Samhain Eve by Laurie Byro
Snow-white birches bend low to the ground,
begging to be stripped of yellow leaves. In my head,
I am reading a poem to Geordie. You spread
your black pea-coat on damp earth, invite me
near the bonfire you have made. You cup
your hands as if around a match, enter me as easily
as breathing in–releasing oxygen, dispelling
strength. Smoke snakes around our ankles. A sooty
leaf rises a black-ghost smudges a cross on
my forehead. I carry my shoes across a stream,
stepping barefoot on stones warmed by the sun.
Hemlock boughs are are flattened soft from rain.
In England, a woman washes nappies rinses out
piss while composing a poem in her head. There
are scars where electricity scorched her temples.
If you call me by her name, I won’t answer. I’ll trudge
through fiery leaves that late autumn trees have shed.
I tell you it looks as if someone has been bleeding.
You say it’s the time of year to be lonely. We forage
branches of gold on our way home. We place them in clay
jars to lure love to a table glittering with beads of honey.
This poem can be found in my friend Laurie Byro’s very fine new book of poems, Luna
Like a miniature garden
growing in a cup of limestone
a bond forms over time
scraps of leaves and bird droppings and seeds
roots, faint wisps at first
tap into the life force and dig down, deep
the bright flourish of first growth
gives way to a steady accumulation of experiences
big and small, good and bad
weather of all sorts caresses, buffets
and the seasons, revolving imperceptibly
turning us to and away from the source
branches wither and die
leaving the scar of remembrance
deep in the tissue
fibers of memory knot and twist
into strong rope
binding us together.
TWO BAD BEDBUGS VISIT NEW YORK: A Bloodthirsty Tale
Felice and Festus were two bad bedbugs. They came from a long line of bloodsuckers out west. An adventurous pair, they packed their bags and headed to New York City for an all-you-can-eat vacation. Those two bad bedbugs touched down at the airport, itching for a good time. They hitched a ride to their hotel with an unsuspecting businessman.
“Oh, Festus, the honeymoon suite. Isn’t this fancy!”
“Only the best for my love bug.”
“And look at the view!” squeaked Felice.
“Ah, the city that never sleeps! I can’t wait to check out the night life.”
“And I can’t wait to go shopping. Don’t forget your comfortable shoes, Festus!”
The bedbugs hopped onto the New York Nighttime Skyline bus tour. “Whee!” squealed Felice. “Feel the wind in your antennae.”
They zipped past the Empire State building. “Awesome!” cheered Festus, eyeing a large tourist.
At Time Square Felice and Festus jumped off and joined the crowds with their cameras.
“Lights. Cameras. Action!” shouted Festus.
“Festus, I feel like a movie star.”
“Dinner?” asked Festus, licking his lips and scanning the crowd.
“And a show.” Felice gazed longingly at the Spiderman poster.
Just then, Felice spotted the designer handbag of her dreams.
“Festus, it’s to die for!” Before he could stop her, she leaped into the bag.
“Don’t get carried away my honeybug!” Festus jumped in after her.
Felice and Festus zipped downtown in a cab, and were carried aboard the Staten Island ferry. Felice peeked out of the handbag. “Look! It’s the Statue of Liberty. Festus, suck in your gut and let me get a picture.”
“Felice, I’m feeling a little queasy . . . must have been somebody I ate.”
Luckily, a passing pigeon came to their rescue. A short time later they touched down at Wall Street.
“Wowy-Zowy! Wait ’til the boys back home see this,” crowed Festus, striking a pose on top of the Wall Street bull.
“Next stop Chinatown,” called the pigeon.
Festus bought himself a souvenir T-shirt—I Took a Bite out of the Big Apple.
They were about to try some local delicacies, when Felice shrieked, “Crunching cockroaches, Festus, scuttle for your life!” Pursued by a gang of tough looking roaches, they managed to escape down a sewer grating just in the nick of time.
Safe at last, those feisty bedbugs rode the subway uptown and sneaked into the Natural History Museum. It was time for a midnight snack. “Pah!” Festus spat out a mouthful of dried elephant hide. “This stuff is for the dust mites. I’m out of here.”
Felice snuggled up to Festus and looked up at the moon over Central Park. “Ah, that’s more like it—a romantic carriage ride with my little bugaboo.”
Back at their hotel, Felice and Festus enjoyed a succulent feast.
“A toast to New York,” said Festus. “A bloody wonderful city.”
“Festus, if I drink another drop I’ll burst,” sighed Felice. “The portions here are humungous. I must have gained 10 grams.”
At last, that bloodthirsty pair came to the end of their vacation. Felice and Festus, two bad bedbugs, cozied up for the long journey home.
I walk around the house in the summer twilight
letting in the insect orchestra
katydids run scales in the tree tops
crickets, the violins of summer
carry the tune from tree and field and bush
an owl makes its first exploratory sounding
of the evening, three solitary hoots—no reply
the night rhythm begins
Warm August air pushes through the hammock
mosquitoes whine by my ankles
and through a hole in the canopy
I watch bats shadow puppet
against a column of darkening sky
I strain to catch the thread of each vibration
each pattern, rhythm, pitch
a unique life cycle
a specific niche filled
a gorgeous tapestry of sound
It’s carnival this time of year
no sooner has one reveler bowed out
than the next chorus crowds in from the wings
the belligerent rise and fall of the dog day cicadas
makes way for the ululations of the grey tree frogs
at high noon the meadow shimmered
with the stridulation of grasshoppers
and now young coyotes yip and howl
as they prowl the long grasses
Sunlight creeps into the garden once more
illuminating tomatoes tear-dropped with dew
songbirds and crows take to the stage
and under the stone in the wall
the constant cricket sings.
TROLL UNDER THE BRIDGE
Faintly he hears the bleat of Mr. Dollar’s goats from up the road.
No chance of a nice fat one trit-trotting across his bridge.
Troll must settle for devouring, with his unblinking eyes,
the beer swilling teenagers wielding spray cans,
the solitary Sunday morning fisherman,
the motionless heron gazing into the slow eddies for young trout.
In spring he feasts his eyes on the surge of brown flood water
muscling its way downstream,
and gorges on backyard debris—broken deckchairs, bicycle tires, chicken wire
In summer he drinks in the swallows swirling in the fly-riddled air
and the young ones peeping from their nests
tucked under the bridge’s metal struts
In fall he savors the acorns and maple helicopters
tossed into the current by kids hanging over the railings,
and the flocks of Canada geese settling into the marsh at twilight
And in winter the old troll digests the slow trickle under ice,
and the eagle perched in bare branches with one eye on the open water,
the other on the motionless figure watching from under the bridge.
HERE, NOW, ALWAYS
The air is warm as blood,
buzzing with the vibrations of mating cicadas.
A swarm of red ants scurry
over the slats of the deck chair
that has not been moved since my father last sat in it;
this is now their territory.
Whilst he slumbered
under the green canopy of the walnut tree
they crept, antennae quivering, into his world.
Soon fertile eggs clustered
in a coral of larvae under the armrests.
Workers foraged relentlessly
from the lawn to the deck chair to feed their queen,
right under my father’s oblivious arse.
Did his brain search so diligently for words
to describe the scene in front of him?
Or did he simply accept if for a seamless whole
and himself embroidered into a corner of it—all of a piece?
I brought him a cup of coffee, thinking he’d linger,
beguiled by the natural world he once loved; but no.
Maybe the ants crept up his pant leg
or the swoop of a red-bellied woodpecker
jolted him out of his being
and sent him shuffling inside for a spoon of sugar.
It’s been a busy but rewarding season. My parents came from Ireland to visit and experience glorious summer weather and the constant circus of wildlife that surrounds our house in New York’s Hudson Valley. I celebrated my 50th birthday in my wild but fruitful garden, surrounded by family and friends. My wonderful daughter and mother helped me cook up a feast with lots of tasty local produce. Every day I marveled at my daughter’s artistic skills–painting, writing, embroidering. I watched my youngest son find grace and joy with each new physical skill he mastered. My eldest son’s summer was one long celebration of friends and freedom after four diligent years of high school. Taking him to college we got to explore two new amazing cities and states, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. In between times, I interviewed fascinating and talented artisans for Dirt magazine. And I’ve been out and about with my notebook and camera, making the most of the long beautiful days. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the season as much as I have. –Your health! Melissa
Here’s a link to my latest article in Dirt Magazine
The man who balanced stones
took them home to bed with him, you know.
He rolled them under the covers
and ran the soles of his feet,
callous by callous,
over the fissures and dimples.
He knew the landscape of limestone and slate,
the terrain of every one of those globes of granite,
each freckle and glint of mica,
his namesake; and god knows the hands,
the great gulfed hands of a wall builder.
By day he pawed those bed stones of fieldstone
eyes closed to a flicker of emotion
and a slow sweet smile as
he found each one’s sweet spot—
the point at which it rested in perfect balance.
TALKING WITH CROWS
I love it when the crows talk to me:
They know the comings and goings along the road,
why the blue jays are shrieking
and the sparrows have grown quiet in the bush.
Crows tell of the hawk’s shadow skimming the treetops
the silent owl on the hunt,
the bat looping the lawn.
They know the house wren’s hysterics
mean the house cat is slinking
through the grass, they know
there’s a bear feasting in the black cherry,
a dead snake on the road
and the turkey vultures are circling.
Crows—all eyes and ears and voice,
And they know that I am good
for old crusts of bread and gossip.