A Stand of Cottonwoods
in a Field North
of Colorado Springs
by Robert Lavett Smith

Against a sky
flecked with cold light,
these gaunt trunks
and grasping branches
could be figures
in a book of hours,
emaciated saints
in the dying of the year,
resigned to some martyrdom
they alone foresee.
At their feet, scraps
of dirty snow are scattered
through the grass
like pages torn from a ledger
of judgments, their stern
sentences washed clean
by the weather, nothing
remaining in the early dusk
but a whiteness
as translucent as old vellum.

by Robert Lavett Smith

First, factor the diminished light
of early summer, when the days
begin to contract—shyly, as though
loath to acknowledge their dwindling.

Then, combine like terms:
The radiant aureole rimming a leaf,
more optimism than substance;
a hint of the colorless rigor of water.

Simplify the following expressions:
Shadows smudged slightly at the edges
like sidewalk pastels blurred by recent rain;
the sticky blue scent of hydrangeas in bloom.

Lastly, reduce the wrought-iron railings
scrawling their demotic terms
across the chalkboard green
of the library lawn,

where a solitary crow
pecks at something—
a feathered “X,”
an unsolvable variable.

by Robert Lavett Smith

The tracks skirted the west side of town,
passing warehouses abandoned since the fifties,
clusters of single family homes with beveled porches
whose peeling façades were bandaged with tar paper,
crossing a green sea of cattails and marsh grass
that looked, in uncertain light, like an estuary.

This was a working class neighborhood,
worlds away from the gentrification already
beginning to assert itself along Washington Street,
the trendy bars, boutiques, and exotic eateries.
I had hardly ever been there, save once or twice
walking alone at dusk or just at dawn, as stars
either bloomed or faded in the rusted sky.

But in the dead of night, abruptly awakened beneath
the ornate tin ceiling of my room in the railroad flat
I shared, I often heard the long exhalation of a train,
mournful as a country song: some rattling old freight
lumbering through the dark to Bayonne or Newark,
laden with an unguessable cargo for the docks.

All this was thirty years ago, but lately,
waking again on the opposite coast
at that lightless hour when memory
is most persistent, I find I can distinguish,
as though in a dream, that moaning whistle,
tempting me back to a time I can never reclaim.


Robert Lavett Smith has lived in San Francisco since 1987.  
For the past fifteen years, he has worked as a Special Education
Paraprofessional.  Smith is the author of two poetry collections,
the more recent of which is
Smoke in Cold Weather: A
Gathering of Sonnets
(Full Court Press, 2013), and his work
has appeared in
Poetry Northwest, Hanging Loose, and The
Hiram Poetry Review

On “Train Whistle in the Dead of Night”:
My poem “Train Whistle in the Dead of Night” has its origins
in my memories of a railroad flat where I lived for a year with
a college friend in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1980s.  In those
days, when I was in my twenties, I would often be jarred awake
at ungodly hours by the wailing of the freight trains passing
along the railroad tracks on the west end of town, even though
the tracks were a considerable distance away.  A few months
ago I woke abruptly with the mournful sound of a train in my
head, clear enough to be real, although the apartment where
I live now, in San Francisco, is many miles away from any sort
of track or freight yard.  Whether I dreamed it or not, that
phantom whistle filled me with an overwhelming desire to
return to my life of thirty years ago, even as I realized I could
never do so, since that world is gone forever.   

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 9, Number 1
(Spring 2014)

Copyright © 2014
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.

Part of the Equation
Train Whistle in the Dead
of Night