April 4, 2008

"History" by Peter Schmitt

Peter SchmittPeter Schmitt is the author of four collections of poems: Renewing the Vows, from David Robert Books (August 2007); Hazard Duty and Country Airport (Copper Beech Press); and a chapbook, To Disappear, from Pudding House. He has received The Lavan Award from The Academy of American Poets; The “Discovery”/The Nation Prize; and grants from the Florida Arts Council (twice) and The Ingram Merrill Foundation. His poems have been featured on National Public Radio’s Writers Almanac (read by Garrison Keillor), and his poem, “Packing Plant,” won The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival open competition in Farmington, Connecticut, in 2001, chosen out of 632 entries. His poems have appeared in many leading publications, including The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, and have been widely anthologized. He has also reviewed poetry for The Miami Herald and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. A native Miamian and graduate with honors from Amherst College, where he studied with Richard Wilbur, and from the University of Iowa, where his teachers included Donald Justice, Peter Schmitt has taught creative writing and literature at the University of Miami since 1986.


On a walking tour a few years ago

of historic homes in my old neighborhood,

we entered a house that I soon realized

belonged to the family of a girl

I knew in junior high—smart, good-looking,

vivacious, popular—and who had died

suddenly not long after, in college,

of a heart condition never diagnosed.

She was editor of our ninth grade yearbook,

so it’s no surprise she’s everywhere in it,

and in my copy she had signed each photo,

crossing out in one her face and writing,

“I hate this picture!” That year she dated

a black classmate, when at the time not one

black family lived anywhere in our town.

And now we were walking through her old house,

a house I had never visited then,

not a close friend, and into her bedroom,

which her parents had evidently left

as she might have last seen it, the lone, twin bed,

the Frampton posters, cramped desk, box turntable.

By then I wasn’t listening to our guide,

for just that moment I was closer to her

than I’d ever been, and could grasp a little

clearer the history of that house. Downstairs,

I introduced myself to her mother,

who had waited patiently with a pitcher

of lemonade, for the guests to file through.

She smiled, and claimed to remember my name.

Near the door hung a large family photo,

with Beth front and center, her gaze directed

just above the camera, taken likely

not long before she died. I paused there briefly.

Then we resumed our leisurely tour, as our

guide drew a line across his list of houses.


Throughout the month of April, National Poetry Month, poets from the Caribbean and South Florida will be featured on this blog.

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