Elizabeth Smither

Four Poems read by the author [mp3]

Last sister

Least and last and now, as
the last illness comes and she
takes to bed, largest. The only
one with lungs still breathing

faintly on this earth. The rest
in their sequence, like birth spaces,
dead, bones striving for equality
reaching dust as if a race and tape

measured them still. A stile
she will have to cross alone
or a door with the handle too high
tiptoeing to reach the windowsill

and see in through the glass
but not out. Until then
she holds them as an hourglass
holds sand and a rose holds scent.

A cortege of daughters

A quite ordinary funeral: the corpse
unknown to the priest. The twenty-third psalm.
The readings by serious businessmen
one who nearly tripped on the unaccustomed pew.
The kneelers and the sitters like sheep and goats.

But by some prior determination a row
of daughters and daughters-in-law rose
to act as pallbearers instead of men
all of even height and beautiful.
One wore in her hair a black and white striped bow.

And in the midst of their queenliness
one in dark flowered silk, the corpse
had become a man before he reached the porch
so loved he had his own dark barge
which their slow moving footsteps rowed
as a dark lake is sometimes surrounded by irises.

An error on a quiz programme

‘Give me the names of three lady violinists
who lived at Haworth Parsonage?’
Charlotte on the violin, Anne the viola
and Emily on the violoncello.
Each evening in the dark drawing room
they drew up their instruments and played
with the wind above the graves.

Charlotte was most in demand as a soloist.
Anne was too shy and with a limited repertoire.
The violoncello takes up too much room in a carriage.
If anyone was asked out it was usually Charlotte.
Emily carried the violoncello on her back
as she tramped the moors. Sometimes
she laid it across a stream and jumped over it.


I had two plaits: one thick
an anaconda plait and the other
more like a thin grass snake.

My parting was on one side
a harvest, a rich waterfall
and a thin trickling river

but they were companionably joined
and tied with a wide ribbon
whose loops and bows were equal.

The weak and the strong
were strong together, the raised segments
of hair, a wide and thin muscle

a lesson that hung down my back
so though I could not see justice
I could feel how it was distributed.