Three Poems by Justin E. H. Smith


I Wrote a Thing

I wrote a thing.
A thing.
A wellspring of care,
A sting
Concentrated in a single point
On the breast.
I wrote a thing.
A single proportion of motion and rest,
A coming together in number
To attend together
To questions of life and death,
As whether Snorri be banished
Or Hrafnar vanished,
At the Thing:
The Alþing.
Or something,
As when two only come together
In love,
And are said to be ‘a thing now’.
A thing.
Not an object thrown against us,
An objection,
As when lawyers invoke
Truths or lies that must not be spoke
Before a judge.
But a thing.
Not a being, either,
Not quite,
As when seed works upon the blood
And grows up
Preserving form
In order to become
What it always has been.
But a thing,
I wrote.
I wrote a thing.
Something more like a cause,
As when the Creator awes
All Creation by this one simple trick,
That he who is cause of himself
Is of himself effect.
A thing.
Like a ring of opal,
Inherited, never bought,
Traduced down
From looming she-ancestors.
A thing.
Not only or primarily a physical thing,
Even when it hangs around the neck,
And shines,
And is called ‘bling’,
So you may know that he who wears it
Is king,
Sovereign, that is,
Cause and effect of whatever it is that, For now,
Sustains him.
A thing, I wrote.
Like a hair-pin…
A Mason jar…
A buffalo nickel…
A bird-bone needle pulled from an ancient tumulus.

An ancient intention.

I wrote a thing, I said.
I said I wrote a thing.



My billion siblings your life
was a scintilla, a flash of
light before death, rippling
down, the light I mean, before
the slats –baleen, I mean– appear:
a cruising world of teeth made
fronds before a warmth, a tongue,
a gut, a dark moves in our compound
eye, our gastric mill no use in this milieu,
I mean; I have always lobstered my
way away from the great world swimming
about the fanons, some terrified dumb
plankton, some happy parasites feasting
on acid imbalance; but look at
the mundi in mundo, the free riders
on the whale: the teeming world in
the lumbering world, and the discretion
of the unmoved barnacle; and ask yourselves,
now transduced into half a synaptic firing,
into a thousandth part of the beat of a
gross heart like the sun, and wonder
which world makes which great, and
who is dying for whom.



For God so loved the world,
God’s love did so abound,
He filled the void with love so thick,
you gotta swim just to get around.

Flippers, mask, and lovesuit,
a trusty tool that glows and beeps,
and sensors stuck on pressure points–
lest you plunge, in God’s thick love, too deep,
and pop your goddamn joints.

Nature loves a plenum,
mingles poolside, falls in drunk.
Hostess to God’s swimmers,
Nature’s waves strip off their trunks.
It’s her party, and you wonder:
am I on the list? Not quite.
You check your gauge and, emptied out,
you float up through God’s night.


About the Author:

Justin E. H. Smith is a professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris. His website is