A Poetry Syllabus
{An Umbrella Special Feature}


Allison Smythe

spent most of the 80’s in Boston and most of the rest of the time in Texas. Three years ago she moved to a small town outside Columbia, Missouri where she coordinates a bi-weekly reading series, Hearing Voices.

She art directs the graphic design firm arsgraphica.

Her work has appeared in the Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Sojourn and Verse Daily, among others.


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Divisible World How much faith we must have in the visible world.
Jude Nutter

Mostly, we are vacancies.
                  Atoms and everything made of them  
                                    are all but empty space. This heavy

oak table I slide my palms across,  
                  the spoon that rattles this saucer.  
                                    Barely there. Plato understood the matter

we recognize, the trees, rocks and couches  
                  we smell and touch, as having been  
                                    sculpted and formed from regions of space.

The world we see less illusion  
                  than a certain lush rendering.
                                    One scoop me and one scoop you.

Except your atoms did not hold.  
                  Galaxies whirl and do not break  
                                    apart though the source of gravity choreographing

their ancient waltz cannot be found.  
                  Dark matter, we call it, construing what must be  
                                    by what is absent. Like the stocking

we don’t hang at Christmas, the number  
                  you don’t answer, birthday
                                    cards that do not come.

Stories you will never tell your nieces. What then  
                  holds us together when we’re told  
                                    every atom in the universe strives,

like salmon on their upstream runs, to make its way  
                  back to the vast, placid sea  
                                    from which it once was seized

and conscripted into service? A crack in the constant  
                  constellation of isolation littering  
                                    the infinite expanse and then:

a flowering of solar systems, craggy cliffs, wooly mammoths,  
                  human hearts. Could you not see that  
                                    for a brief and tender moment,

it’s love that holds our feet to earth? The Converse Jams  
                  I found one freezing December  
                                    at an outlet outside Boston,

a dozen bus stops from my unfamiliar home,  
                  and toted in triumph on the plane  
                                    back to Texas for the first family

Christmas I flew home for. You wore them  
                  from then onto class, the prom, to every  
                                    greasy kitchen job you quit

in too many towns, bent only on playing your music.  
                  You wore them till they flapped,  
                                    till they stank, till they were putrid.

I loved your filthy shoes. Your various colored hair.  
                  The brilliant smile the dentist  
                                    wrecked but still dazzled

the kids on your schoolbus. Bus driver Steve.  
                  Family photos accumulating on the mantle  
                                    age without you.

You are not here but as all matter is conserved  
                  you are somewhere, atoms,  
                                    perhaps, at last, at rest

inaccessible to your warm flesh. Was a gun  
                  aimed at the brain a sort of shortcut,  
                                    a headstart in blasting

those atoms back into the cosmos  
                  where they lay in the chill  
                                    perfection of stasis before love

interrupted, whistling each lone particle
                  in from exile, disturbing entropy,
                                    conjuring the substance of this world?

And although I’m told the atoms that shape  
                  us are 99.9 percent empty space, I spin still
                                    in the orbit of your missing

mass, which must assure every skeptic  
                  and physicist when that .1 percent  
                                    of matter we grow so fond of

forsakes us for its natal field,  
                  dark matter, most certainly, remains.