You once spent my Grandmother’s entire paycheck on birds:

cockatiels, lovebirds, parakeets, parotletts, lorrikeets, cockatoos,

finches, a yellow canary. She asked you to take them back,

and instead you let them fly free around the house and garage

a gorgeous swarm of apple greens, ash grays, yellows

until they found sky.

As you opened windows to guide them away, I knew then how beautiful you were.

I memorized the way you lifted Marlboros to your lips, as you sat on the porch

of my Grandmother’s Echo Park home, the ash falling in the tray

you brought from Mexico—a scorpion caught in glass.

You were even more beautiful the day

I accidentally interrupted your undressing.

The light flew through the lace curtains and around your snake skin boots.

Your turquoise and silver belt glinted

as you unbuckled.

No, stay

you whispered, and I found myself running away from your beauty.

Into the depths of bougainvillea and morning glories,

up Baxter until it was just Downtown Los Angeles and I.


My parents yelled quietly, you could have been taken

by a bad man,

we might not have found you.

I could not tell them that the bad man was not out here  

but at home, waiting on the couch, ethereal in lamp light, my abuelo

a scorpion in a shoe.


Someone asked if I ever miss you,

and the answer is yes and every day, and eighteen years later

I am back to you, oh messy Vestal, the yard

where I learned the meaning of betrayal,

overgrown with ivy and abalone shells.

Now, I can see downtown ablaze in artificial light,

my sister Willow is playing guitar, and my husband is holding me,             

and this is goodbye.    


The Importance of Stars



The black kitten thrown from the window

of a pick up on the 405

snarled and danced as other cars swerved

around and into each other to avoid it.

At 60 mph I was going too fast

to brake, and too slow to not see.    


Now on the balcony of our flat,

the pear blossoms are glowing

and six glasses of champagne unlock

my rage in that cats snarl.


My step-grandfather waking me up at 2 am,

pulling me into the backyard, pajamas yanked down.

My grandma, my mom, and dad sleeping in the house

only feet away, but as distant as the stars swirl above,

beautiful and useless.


This black snarl becomes language,

and I told the man, I love most in this world,

my bright star, my future husband, my greatest risk,

leave and don’t come back.

As if he were the arms throwing the cat

as if he were my step-grandfather.  


The pain of my words burned him alive,

but he still pulled me gently into him

and as we blazed together   

I knew then the importance of stars

in all this darkness.  


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Robin Smith has been published world-wide and has received the Academy of American Poet’s prize. She received her B.A and M.A in English (Creative Writing, Poetry) at Cal State University Northridge. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of North Dakota.


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