Learning Spanish, As a Figure of Hermes, I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges: Three Poems by Poet David Glen Smith

Learning Spanish

It’s too easy to fall
into the ancient sea of your family’s
conversations, into the phrases
of their language— woven with birds
and paper roses.

I lean into the current
of their thoughts,
into the flood of indecipherable
rhythms, the latin root
heavy as cobblestones originally imported

from Spain, copper-blue stones
which served as counter weights on trade ships
arriving from the Old World, sent to balance
the absence, the expectation for cargo on return
trips: dark rum, raw sugarcane, aboriginal slaves.

Later, my throat mumbles words
which you drop on my tongue, casual as communion:

the syllables jostle in my mouth,
between my incisors as chips of ice,
or homemade candies—membrillo de mangó—
sweets purchased from a middle-aged woman
with a pushcart in a courtyard of Old San Juan.

The tart pricklings accent against
the roof of the mouth, the double vowels heavy
as two empty rowboats
which brush against each other
at the water’s edge,

and pull back, both caught in a short sway,
in unison, the same manner your parents
move about their narrow kitchen, a casual salsa,
following rituals and patterns
of making cafe con leche. Then,

they simmer pink beans
with chunks of stewed gourd,
while on the counter a stalk of green plantains arches,
leans forward to a ripeness,
leans forward to listen

to your parents humming
an unrecognizable lyric with the radio,
a washed-out blue tune,
the same color of the streets in the capital-city,
which run as streams of faded beryl.

When I practice phrases
my phonetics falter, they arch and unwind
the language into nonsensical syllables,
the words transform to awkward birds
settling into the evening

spilling out a chorus of blue-black voices,
the sounds clutter wires along crossroads,
verbs jostle for placement around wide-eyed nouns,
misplaced adjectives seek new positions to roost
along the established hierarchy on cable-lines.

Yet there are times, rare moments,
when you forget and pour over me
a pitcher full of indecipherable phrases,
sudden shock of cold water,
or a broken levee of vocabulary,

similar sensations to my waking in the night
to find you rocking the baby in full parental mode,
whispering Spanish lullabies. I lean forward
to listen, drunk on lack of sleep,
and watch your body sway in a private tide,

a personal conversation. And my ears recognize a few
isolated words— take in scattered phrases.

As a Figure of Hermes

A moment of confrontation:
me and the blank paper.
So I breathe. Fidget with the seat.

Adjust placement of the pen
in the hand and stare at the lamp
to expect miracles—or to simply wait

for inspiration to arrive
as a figure of Hermes, god of messages
and proclamations. Young, dark-haired,

olive complexion— the eternal youth appearing
as a reinvention of my son:
his unkempt hair, a rough unshaven face,

brimming with assertiveness
after soccer practice, smelling of green youth
and over confidence—

I want this figure to personify my work,
my athletic poems stacked in slightly
disorganized piles on my desk.

I want my boy to represent an appropriate,
valid body of work which explains
my creative process, my desire for writing,

yes—my raison d’être. Go ahead. State the fact I want too much
as I daydream, glancing outside my study window,
watching my neighbors settling into their lives

and their chores, sorting trash for the weekly pickup
or sweeping their wet driveways clear of the leaves
floating around the subdivision,

and here I am falling into images of the mundane
in order to fill out the page with material
that may turn into something other when the mood

returns. A time when Brendan is less averse
to fatherly affection: my son with his facial expressions
slightly wind-burned from the rush of

falling through the skies, freckles across his shoulders,
wings on his ankles, a figure of mid-summer himself,
god of thieves and alphabets, delivering me a note

from the Muses, offering a stronger sense of direction
and greater sense of self worth, acute awareness of
my writing career as it stumbles along with my notations,

as I jump from the deep edge of the pool
without paying attention to how deep the water
actually is. When my awkward body hits the surface

it submerges as a stone
into the furiously cold waters.
A new horizon expands overhead—

which brings me back, almost full circle,
leaping headfirst into a project without
a scope of the territory or full knowledge of the exact

limitations of theme or topic.
Only a revision of the unknowable future
in my hands—my head filled with

a want of my son to turn,
look back, and maybe,
just maybe

gain a full understanding of me
with a rush of winged epiphanies—
yet, without further declarations from the world. 

Or without formal edicts of fate.
Or the domed heavens spiraling persistently
above our heads. Silent. Without purpose.

I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges

Without hesitation,
shove kindling and kerosene-soaked-rags
under the foundations of any structure
binding your slender body to the past,
incinerate the litany of misguided perceptions,
broken advice, miscalculated directions
which led you down dead-end gravel roads
at dusk, where even technology fails
to establish a connection to your self worth,
self validation.

Without regret, fulminate,
strike bundles of matches, cup the small flames close,
and shield the fever against your chest,
then light all combustible materials within reach,
the cracked plywood planks
built across the river of your life—
fuel the developing fox fires
with tinder and last year’s seasoned branches—
collect brushwood to throw into the pyre
with glorious affirmation.

Without looking back,
acknowledge the ash which rains down as soft snow
and the sheets of fire which expand, licking up
further beyond any flash point. Encourage the blaze,
to vesicate, sear lumber and stone—
without turning, you must visualize the heat
at your back, blistering the nape of your neck,
singing the tips of your coal black hair, and then,
only then, step away. Motion forward—keeping your eyes
centered to the cool darkness ahead.

David-Glen Smith’s work appeared in various magazines including:Assaracus (where “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges” first appeared), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, The Steel-Toe Review,and The Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede-Unfinished accepted two of his poems. Currently residing in Cypress, Texas with his partner of ten years, they recently adopted a baby boy, a welcome edition in their lives: new topics and inspirations for poetry projects. Smith teaches English Literature at both Wharton County Junior College and Lone Star College-CyFair. He received his MFA at Vermont College, and his MA at the University of MO at St. Louis. For more information visit his website.

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