Poem of the Week: “Wounded Men Seldom Come Home to Die,” by Austin Smith



Regarding this week’s selection, Interim Director Cindy Hunter Morgan says, “I’ve been sharing Austin Smith’s poems with friends and students and strangers since I discovered his book, Almanac, in 2013. I was delighted to find this new poem in the August issue of Adroit Journal. I admire how Smith balances the ordinary with the surreal, and how the poem, as a vessel, accommodates both gentleness and violence. I admire his use of simile. ‘Clutching his wound like a bunch of kindling’ is wonderfully odd and perfectly right, and the description of the wound — the way, as Smith says, ‘It’s still drifting around inside his body, bouncing,’ also feels weird and true.”





And this is why: when a wounded man comes home
To die he must come in through the summer kitchen,
Clutching his wound like a bunch of kindling.
At the sight of him his mother faints. He catches her

Just in time and lays her down on the floor.
When his sister comes in from slopping hogs to find her
Brother at the table with his long legs kicked out
And their mother senseless on the linoleum, she sighs

And unbuttons his shirt. The wound isn’t visible yet,
It’s still drifting around inside his body, bouncing
Under his skin like a man swimming under ice,
Desperate to find the place where he fell through.

When the wound surfaces, that’s when she’ll know
Whether he’ll live or die. For now, his eyes are calm
And blue. He asks her which boys have been bothering her
At school. She knows not to ask him where he’s been.

When their mother comes to, she insists she’s fine.
“It’s just this heat is all,” she says. After putting a pot
Of coffee on, she says, “Now if you’ll excuse me,
I’m going upstairs and close my eyes awhile.”

There’s blood soaking through his white tee-shirt now.
His sister pretends not to see it. They talk through the evening.
Around midnight she tells him the sheets on his bed are clean.
He thanks her and tells her he might sit on the porch,

Watch fireflies like he used to when he was little.
In the morning his bed hasn’t been slept in. There’s no note
On the kitchen table, just a few fireflies in a Mason jar,
Holes punched in the tin lid so they can breathe.

(Originally Published in the Adroit Journal, August 2018)

Published by cpoetrymsu

The Center for Poetry opened in the fall of 2007 to encourage the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry and to create an awareness of the place and power of poetry in our everyday lives. We think about this in a number of ways, including through readings, shows, community outreach, and workshops. We are at work building a poetry community at MSU and in the greater Lansing area. Contact: cpoetry@msu.edu (517) 884-1932 http://www.poetry.rcah.msu.edu

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