two poems

by Sara Jeanine Smith

Yazoo City, Mississippi

Frame this:
dogshit on a boutique floor
in a town once flooded, then wrung dry with crying
blown away and burnt down, divided and deserted,
all the while war wounds salted,
picked open again and again
by fingers hungry for stinging flesh.

Decades shuffle like a deck of stained cards
through flood and fire and fever
but somehow there still beats
a waterlogged heart.
Lungs draw the rattled breath
of cornstalks.

July sunlight bathes the garish colors
of crumbling storefronts, broke banks,
collapsed churches, holy alleys,
the valleys of the shadows
where dreams once whispered.

On this rot I will build my church:
its hymn will be wind and honeysuckle.
I will worship the cracks in the sidewalk
where weeds peek through
because in the continual falling
the grace of each failing
holds us like babies too new to be known,
and ghosts too old to be silent
sing us to sleep, swaddled in kudzu.

All things burnt and blighted,
all creatures stunted and small
bless them, alluvial god,
because I can no longer think
of my dammed heart
as anything but a floodplain

when he leans across a chipped table
at the empty café and says,
so far on this trip, you’ve only taken pictures
of things that are broken


When a Heart is Compelled

to leave itself in wild places,
to earn its lonesome,

it wanders from its warm cottage
into a forest silent with snow,
as if to explain a persistent chill,
to justify an inner tremor.

It tosses trinkets to the wind,
casts relics to birds. Frost forms
a brittle envelope around letters
once enclosed in cedar vaults.

The things formerly saved first
in case of fire are now offerings
to the god of loss, whose altar is ice.

He calls us out of our cottages
when the only warmth we have left
is from our own shaking.

Sara Jeanine Smith was born in central Florida and grew up in the Florida panhandle. She is an assistant professor of English at Pensacola State College and the mother of two daughters. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Roanoke Review, The Stirling Spoon, Psaltery & Lyre, Hurricane Review, Dying Dahlia Review, and Mothers Always Write. Her chapbook entitled Queen and Stranger was published by USPOCO Books in 2019.

Photography: Timothy Eberly