Chances Are

You know where they hide the key,
the flowerpot with the dead rosemary
that reaches up like a fingered arm. It is wet
with earthworms and slides into its lock.
In the kitchen the dishes wink
in their cabinets, all clean as rain. The quiet
is heavy, though you expect to find Nora's mother
floating in a half sleep, ghost in pink nightgown.
You do not know where to begin. You touch
the door that gives to a room of unused things—
a white sewing machine, gated fireplace, the piano
Nora used to tease to song. You touch the smooth
wood—what is it, mahogany?—and linger.
You cannot remember what songs you can play,
where to start the Do or the jangle of Chopsticks.
A cat raises its drowsy head on the couch
to look at you, then licks its paw. You are going
the wrong way, but you know this. On the wall,
Nora smiles brightly at you from the beach,
her third grade belly swathed in red polka dot.
You wish you'd known her then, when the world
could be made of Dollar Store buckets, a horizon
of sand. Then you see yourself in the glass, smaller
than you've been in years, a thatch of brown hair
tucked behind one ear. You circle back and push
the door to the garage. The hinges are a child's scream
in the dark. But you know it's there, always
damp from storm, the kind that smells
like Tennessee and too much rye. It is there,
sheeted in tarp and a promise of repair
like all garaged things. You remember trees
and a highway as black as burnt pine. Remember
the womanly curve in the road, the echoing bird
trill in the thick night. Remember the way an engine
growls to life like grouse in a field. You stand
in the cold dark. You do not turn on the light.
You never turn on the light.


Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the Managing Editor of Sundress Publications and The Wardrobe. She is the author of two full-length collections and the editor of two anthologies, Political Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity and Not Somewhere Else But Here: Contemporary Poems on Women and Place. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Ecotone, Mid-American, Crab Orchard Review, Cimarron Review, and Willow Springs, among others. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and teaches in the English Department at the University of Tennessee, where she is also the Jack E. Reese Writer in the Library.