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R.T. Smith

R.T. Smith

R. T. Smith's Outlaw Style (Arkansas, 2007) received the 2008 Library of Virginia Book of the Year Award. His most recent book, Sherburne, a new collection of stories, has just been published by Stephen F. Austin University Press. He is Writer-in-Residence at Washington and Lee University, where he edits Shenandoah.

The Widow Finn

I love my hollyhocks and rock roses,
coral columbine along the simple iron
fence around his stone, but simple
he never was, despite the legends-
the boy who rafted hazardous rapids,

then hand-panning gold, hunting
bison for the railroad, the frostbite bout
from early days trapping the Platte
alone. Earthy, yes, but quietly wild
like the berries that furnished his name,

even after he left his dime novel life to ply
the woodcarver's trade. I'd been happy
enough as a spinster. After all, school
teachers need some repose. The dull
nature of the local beaus had taught

me to savor needlework, weak cider,
the fiddle my father taught me to bow.
Content with banked lilies, peaches,
my lady friends and books and cats.
Why not? Our story, however, is plain

as biscuits: quilt social, his braced foot
hindering any dancing. Owl-eyed
in spectacles, he never mentioned danger
but recounted how a sunflower meadow
in Iowa glowed with dew, the splendor

of a diamondback's skin, how familiar
rivers always whispered their names.
It didn't take long to fall. Dear Huck
loved water and called me the River's
Daughter. I tremble now to remember

how he held me in our moonlit room
with hands that could make even awl
and auger into instruments of glory.
Shy, but he learned to trust the body.
I'm not ashamed to say: he made my skin

sing, and sliver by sliver could summon
lilies, a star or willow from driftwood.
Despite a fearsome past, "tarnation"
was his crudest oath--I've said worse--
but when we lost the baby, he sobbed

all night, planing the coffin lid's edges
by lantern. His own fever the next year
is still a mystery, six days of mistaking
my face for a Pawnee girl's, lamenting
some rural murder or cackling about

the witch pie. It took him in his sleep . . . .
not yet forty-four. And how many
tears shed? Not quite a Mississippi.
On sharp nights when the wind whips
up the river, it does get lonesome. Eyes

shut now, shucking corn on the sun
porch, I can almost see him poling a skiff
amid shadows, then bending low to kiss
me or crane-hopping on his good foot
to make me laugh. Now I tend the lilies.

Even his stone's a flower I water:
Husband, Huntsman, Heart's Pioneer. .  . .
Did I say I shivered in my camisole
when he stroked my hair and whispered
"dear Becky," that his voice yet silvers

the very air, and that I shiver still?


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