A Father’s Day Memory

It was a sunny afternoon, and I was helping my Dad with a project; he did woodwork / carpentry as a hobby sometimes, and I was sanding something for him. I don’t remember specifically what it was, but I remember at the end, when the piece was finished, something was off.

We had some difficulty, but he knew how to fix it.

“But it’s going to take longer,” he said.

I looked at him.

“I’m going to do it the faster way,” he said.

I realized then that he was slowing down; he never considered doing anything less than a quality job, in spite of the problems.

I admit I was surprised, and as much as I hated these projects (because I’m better at writing than woodworking) and wanted to finish this, I said to him:

“That’s not your style.”

He looked at me; it was his turn to be surprised.

“Do it the right way,” I said. “If you take the shortcut, all you’re going to do is take it apart later and do it the right way anyway. I’m here to help you, so just do it now.”

He smiled, and we fixed the problem the right way, and he was happy with the work.

He recounted that story to other people for years afterward, pleased that I was there to admonish him to stick to the very principles he taught me about working, whatever the job, and to do it with a sense of pride and excellence.

I was glad we had that time, because I discovered too that sometimes, as much as we need our parents, they need us too.

I love you, Dad.

It’s been twelve years now since you took your final journey.

“I’ll see you when I get there.”



Can’t Swallow Your Poison

I can’t be myself within your parameters

that define me according to what

you think

my limits

should be.

I don’t only belong in the places

you tell me

I can go.

My mind is not limited to your perceptions

of what

I am capable of achieving.

My freedom is not contingent

on your condescension.

My life

is not yours to take


you’re afraid.

My will

is not yours to mold because

you hate

what makes you afraid.

My color is not an accident.

My true ancestry is not diluted by you.

My creativity need not celebrate you.

We are on this sphere by divine will.

You are in my sphere through no choice of my own.

But understand, I will not swallow your poison.

You belittle our massive, unspoken love

for this nation of bondage; whenever we are asked to serve,

we do it with dignity and honor, but not at the expense

of our dignity in service to your hypocrisy.

I will not give you water for your pill of denial,

and I will not drink the poison you’ve

slipped into my life.

I give you back your cup, untouched.

Partake of your own bitterness,

And when you leave

I will place coins on your eyes

for the ferryman,

because I won’t carry the weight of

your ignorance on me





Why You Leaving Now, Daddy?

Back then

the shovels,

picks, hoes,

rakes, pitchforks,

axes and scythes

were held high

on tired shoulders

that had to make it


one more day

to eke out

a hardscrabble


under people

with hardscrabble hearts


They sang and joked

and laughed between

the grunts of effort

that went into

breaking ground


Their sweat brought

the flies and mosquitoes


Their existence brought

bullies carrying violence


But their thoughts were

on their wives and children,

who knew that when their men

left them

it was to make the

best life

they could until

they could do better


There was hope in their toil,

and love in their hearts

and it hurt them to see their women

standing with the children waving, sad smiles on their

little faces, and his wife with

worry in her eyes even though

she smiled too


He might run into the wrong man today…


Coming home tired,

to a cooked meal,

and children on his lap,

and a warm bed with

the love of his life

holding him close.




Now that the chains are off,

Now that you’re free

Now that you can dream your own dreams

and lift up the next generation


Why you leaving now, daddy?

Why you in jail now, daddy?

Why did you shoot that other Black man?

Was he a daddy too?

Why you don’t come by to see us?

Why is mama crying?

Did you hit her again, daddy?


Don’t you love us anymore?


Daddy? Daddy?


Don’t go…


Why you leaving now, daddy?



Across the Miles, Across the Ages

Across the miles

Across the ages



and ancient pages


Tell of Beauty

Dark and Sweet

from palace royal

to city street


Our daughters

Mothers of the earth

The queens of men

of noble birth


Protect them

Love them

Make them strong

while death yet tarries,

but not long


Instill in her

a sense of self

that no man

places on a shelf


And father,

when you’ve gone away

with her inheritance

she’ll say


I want a man just like my dad

who saw the worth in what he had

in me and mother with his love

that he now shares in skies above


Across the miles

Across the ages



and ancient pages


Tell of Beauty

Dark and Sweet

from palace royal

to city street





The Eyes of My Elders

The eyes of my elders

Defiant and Bold


The eyes of my elders

hold secrets untold


The eyes of my elders

saw wonders and pain


The eyes of my elders

see spring in the rain


The eyes of my elders

have knowledge of stars


The eyes of my elders

are healing my scars


The eyes of my elders

saw friends to their graves


The eyes of my elders

sailed harrowing waves


The eyes of my elders

know babies by heart


The eyes of my elders

keep music and art


The eyes of my elders

the stories they tell


The eyes of my elders

are tolling the knell


The eyes of my elders

spread love all around


The eyes of my elders

now look at the ground


The eyes of my elders

are closing to sleep


The eyes of my elders

are now mine to keep




Sailing Home

Author’s Note: A small boy is fishing with his grandfather; as they talk about life, thoughts and feelings emerge that make a lasting impact on the both. The story is told from the point of view of the young boy’s memory now as a grown man.

I was sitting with Grandpa as he cleaned his catch with a knife that he always had, seemingly forever.

The skritch it made against the scales as he worked it with expert hands was like the rhythmic slap of waves on the shore.

His deft fingers never seemed to get caught on the hooks, though he showed me where they had, when he was first learning. Callouses covered the tender skin there, but never covered over the lessons.

I watched the shallow water eddy about my ankles as I sat on the boat’s edge, watching the wheeling gulls hoping to steal a fish or two, though grandpa always left them something.

“Hey Grandpa?”

“What is it, sailor?”

“Why do you always feed the gulls?”

“Folks call ’em the rats of the sea. I call ’em good luck.”

“Why? The fish swim away when they see them.”

“Yep. Right onto my hook.”  He leaned over to catch my eye and said with a wink, “Fish ain’t too bright.”
Then he’d laugh his gentle laugh, and give me a fish head to examine. Somehow, they always looked surprised to be dead.

A gull wheeled in close, and I threw the head into the water to watch them dive and scramble and chase, until finally a victor flew away, three others in pursuit, but there were always others, and they flew in close and bold, curious to see if I held any more treats, but I splashed at them, and they wheeled off, calling me names in their language.

I ran my fingers over the scales of one that was close to me, but didn’t pick it up. The gulls were big, and I was small. I wasn’t afraid, but I didn’t want to test how far they’d go.

“I wonder what they think about when you pull them up…” I said.

“Don’t guess they think much at all.”


He’d finished cleaning the fish, and walked slowly over, and carefully sat next to me, and dipped his ankles in the water next to mine, and the water sloshed in harmony around all the ankles now, and gently swayed the boat beneath our weight.

“I guess they’re in a lot of pain, and just want it to end…” his eyes got far away when he said that, and I knew who he was thinking about.

“Like Grandma?”

He nodded, and took off his glasses, cleaned them with his shirt tail, and dabbed at his eyes with his sleeve.

“Yeah, like Grandma.”

He looked at me then, and put his arm around my shoulder, and we watched the gulls for a while.

“And like me.” he said.

“What hurts?”

“Nothing in particular, and everything in general,” he chuckled.

I smiled, not fully understanding, but he knew that.

He cleared his throat:

“Life’s a lot like a boat,” he said. “You start out in a small craft, and as you travel further out, you take on more, and the craft’s got to get bigger, has to be able to hold all you get. But if you get too much, it slows you down and the journey takes longer. You make more mistakes because you’re always making adjustments for the things you have. You with me…?

“Yes, sir,”  I said, proud of myself that I actually sort of got it.

“And then the storms come, and the stuff you have can help weigh you down, and keep you steady, or it can shift and help the waves flip your boat. If it does that, which is most of the time, you not only lose the things, you lose the people too, the people who’ve helped you to become a good sailor. Still there?”

I nodded, swinging my feet in the surging surf, making foam, dangling a piece of seaweed from my toes.

“And then, eventually, you have to get where you have to be. You have to take the boat home, and get rid of the stuff, because it’s just too much. Some of it you drop off along the way, and some of it you unload when you’re back. The journey’s over, and your stuff’s gone, and you’re just glad to be home, in the quiet. You like that?”

“Sometimes,” I said. “When I’m reading, or thinking about stuff.”

“You thinking about this?”

I looked up at him, because his voice had changed. “Yes, Grandpa, I am.”

He tousled my hair, and laughed his gentle laugh again. “Good man.”



“Are you sailing home, now?”

“I am, son.”

“To Grandma?”

He sighed, and looked out at the setting sun.

“To her, and a whole bunch of other folk you don’t know,” and his sleeve moved again, but I couldn’t see if he was crying.

“You getting rid of stuff?”

He chuckled at that, and again, I smiled with him, unsure.

“Most of it’s gone now, but there’s a little more to go.”

“Oh. Wellll, could you tell her I said hello?” As I spoke I tried to write the word “Grandma” in the mud with my big toe, but the waves kept pushing new mud over it. I wrote it anyway, knowing I’d finished it, that it was still under there somewhere, and it would last for all time.

He smiled, a bit sad, “Ok, sailor. I’ll do that.”

We gathered up our catch.

As we walked home, me with my small sack, him with the bigger one and the fishing rods, I turned to look back at the empty boat, sitting empty on the stilling water, in the fading light, and thought about the time he wouldn’t be there with me.

I stopped, and gestured for him to bend.

He did, and I kissed his cheek.

He straightened, a bit puzzled.

“What’s that for?”

“In case you sail for home before I say good-bye.”


I was cleaning my catch, and he sat on the edge of the boat with his ankles in the water.

I threw him a fish head, and he caught it, turning it around to look at it as the gulls grew bolder.

Satisfied he found what he was looking for, he kicked his feet, making foam, and hummed a tune, looking at the sea birds.

He watched them for a time, turning the fish head like an hourglass, but he didn’t throw it.

The blue of the sky deepened as the sun dipped toward the horizon.

“Hey Grandpa?”

“What is it, sailor….?”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.   2014


Miriam’s Camp (a Darlene story)

Author’s Note: This story features Darlene, the young widow of “Of War and Breakfast”, as an old woman who has lived out her life, dispensing wisdom accumulated from her own experiences and dealings with many people. Her origins start in another story titled, ‘A Journey Home.’ The idea to put several tales from her lecture to her nephew, who comes to visit one summer after many years, of those experiences she shares with him, came when someone suggested I take the experiences from her soliloquy and make them into separate stories. Miriam’s Camp is the third in the series. I hope you enjoy reading it. It is a tale of faith, so if you are not a believer, and wish to comment, please be respectful; I approve all comments prior to them being posted here.
Thank you, and thanks again for taking the time to read my story.  


She was never really able to answer why she got off the bus when she did, in front of the old house that lay on the bus route, a road of dust that seemed little traveled except for the people on it going somewhere else.

Every part of her ached from the old bus’s constant jarring, its suspension in dire need of repairs that would likely never happen; the only one it didn’t seem to bother was the driver, who was humming some tuneless song, if there was such a thing, over and over.
If there isn’t, he just invented it Miriam thought.
But she knew her focus was on the wrong stuff; his lack of tonality was not the issue, but a distraction from the truth of why she was coming back.
Get out of here, Miriam, they told her. See the world.
You’re young; you’ve got your whole life ahead of you to do whatever you want.
You’re a beautiful girl, Miriam. Good looks will take you places.
You could be a model.
You could be in movies.
It sounded glamorous, exciting and exotic.
It was actually wrong, crude, cold, and ultimately bloody; the ways of men and beasts, she discovered, were not dissimilar.
And now she was coming home.

She needed time to think.
“I’ll get off here.”
The driver stopped humming.
“You’re a long way from where you belong, miss. That ticket’s only good for one ride.”
“There’s one I haven’t heard,” she muttered.
“Say, miss?”
“I’ll get out here.”
“You sure?”
“ Yes, I’m sure. Thank you.”
“Suit yourself.”
She stood there in a cloud of wheat colored dust that spun in little dervishes around her like a pulsing aura as the bus pulled off.
Stepping back out of it, she stood there as it settled on and around her, not quite sure what to do next.
“Best get out that sun girl, ‘fore you burn.”
The voice came from across the road; Miriam shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand and peered over.
An old woman sat in a rocking chair on her porch, a cup of coffee in her hand, and a thick book on her knees.
Miriam had never known anyone lived there. Of course not, idiot, this isn’t your side of town.
There were two rocking chairs on the porch. The other one was empty.
The old woman spoke again. “Girl, can you hear me?”
The woman was black; Miriam had never heard a black woman speak to her that way before. It was always, “Yes, Miss Whitcomb,” or “No, Miss Whitcomb,” or “As you please, Miss Whitcomb.”
“Child, come out that sun ‘fore you burn.”
Still somewhat dazed, Miriam found herself crossing the road.
The old woman didn’t stand up. Her brother would’ve called it an anomaly: it was his favorite word. Her father would’ve called it an affront, and dealt with it, but as Miriam got a closer look, probably not with this woman. There was a force to her, and undercurrent of vitality that didn’t seem to encourage or align with the nonsense of modern customs.
“Have a seat, girl. You look done in.”
Miriam looked at the seat, at the woman, at the book in the woman’s lap, and back at the woman’s face. It was old and lined, dark as oak.
“I’ve been sitting for a long time,” Miriam said. “I’ll just lean against this railing, that is, if it’s sound.”
The old woman looked at her then; she had kind and patient eyes that looked not at you, but through.

“My father David, God rest his soul, built this porch with his own two hands. Wasn’t nuthin’ out here before but that dusty road. If it ain’t sound, ain’t ‘cuz he didn’t build it right. Time, termites, and carpenter bees mighta done their share, but you’re welcome to stand, if you choose.”
The railing held.
The old woman went back to her reading, her chair creaking, her finger on the page, tracking the text within.
Miriam watched a hawk circle over a distant field, but the silence pressed.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m here?”
The old woman didn’t look up, kept tracking the words with her finger.
“You here ‘cause I told you to get out of that heat.”
“No, I didn’t mean that, I mean, here.”
“Figured if you wanted me to know, you’d tell me.”
“But you haven’t even asked me my name.”
“Figured if you wanted me to know…”
The girl smiled at that. “It’s Miriam.”
Darlene looked up.
“Well, Miriam, welcome to my home. I’m Darlene. Miss Darlene to you.”
Miriam tossed her hair from her eyes, and said, “And why is that?”
“It’s called, ‘respecting your elders.’ Ain’t you ever heard of it?”
“I guess so.”
“Mm-hmm,” Darlene said. “You can go in the bathroom and freshen up. There’s some clean washcloths in there, and some soap, and lotion, if you’re of a mind. Pour yourself a glass of water too.” She went back to her book.
Miriam did, and came back out in a few minutes, a dampened washcloth in her hand, wrapped around a glass of water.
“Feel better?”
“Yes, thank you, Miss Darlene.”
“You’re welcome.”
Miriam drank her water awhile, her eyes far away.
Darlene finished reading her chapter, and set the book aside.
The words fell in the silence like a stone tossed in the middle of a still lake:
“Comin’ home, ain’t you?”
Miriam went to take a sip of water, and couldn’t raise the glass.
“Yes,” she said, clearing her throat.
She tried to raise the glass again, and couldn’t; her breath hitched, and she tried again.
“You went to the city.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes…” To her dismay, Miriam felt her face redden, and the tears came so fast and hard they stung. Her reflexes moved her hands to cover her eyes, and the glass fell from her hand as she began to break down.
The glass broke into shiny shards on the sunlit porch, the water spreading, filling the cracks and crevices as Miriam went on her knees.
“I’m sorry!” she cried, “Oh, oh, I’m so sorry!” Darlene knew she didn’t mean the glass.

Miriam bent over, her face in her hands, tears leaking through her fingers, her yellow hair limp and damp from the heat, hiding her face, draped over her shoulders; she could feel tiny splinters poking through her summer dress, and welcomed the pain.
Darlene rose from her chair, and made her slow way over to the young girl.
She raised Miriam off her knees, and held her.
“I know, child. I know.”
She swayed with Miriam in her arms as the girl cried.
“I didn’t mean it,” she said, her voice husky with sorrow.
“I know.”

“I didn’t know!
“How could you know, being so young?”
“Oh, it hurts, Miss Darlene, it hurts so much!” Her body was trembling.
“Yes, baby, it’s gon hurt a lot, and maybe for a long time, but you gon be all right after awhile, Miriam. Time heals. God heals.”
Darlene held her until her sobs became sniffles. Miriam stepped out of the embrace, embarrassed somehow, before this woman, at what she was about to say.
She looked at the water drying on the porch floor.
“I don’t believe in God,” she said.
Darlene kept her hands on the girl’s shoulders, and gave a small smile.
“You don’t, huh? Then I guess you ain’t never heard of your namesake?”
“My…namesake?” She looked up.
“Miriam, the sister of Moses. You ain’t never heard?”
“No. We…we don’t go to church. My father…” she didn’t finish, and averted her eyes again.
“Well, sit down. I’ll be back.”
Miriam sat, wiping her eyes with the washcloth, which was also drying from the heat, but still wet enough for the task. She pulled her hair back off her neck, and tried to compose herself. Something was going on here, something strange and uncomfortable, but not frightening.
In the distance, three more hawks had joined the first. Miriam watched their silent, deadly circles.
And I was the mouse in the meadow.
She thought back to that moment she stepped off the bus, looking around in unadulterated wonder at the crowds, the buildings, the noise assaulting her ears, her senses flooded, and a smooth voice in her ear like a lifeline to someone drowning.
May I help you with your luggage, miss?
She looked away from the hawks.
Darlene came back, handed Miriam a new glass of water along with a fresh wet cloth, cold to the touch, and Miriam wiped her face and neck with it.
“Hang it on the railing with the other one. It’ll dry quick.”
Darlene waited until Miriam had resettled herself.
“You ready to hear about Miriam?”
“My ‘namesake,’” she tried the word again, and gave a little smile. “I like that word.”
“Yes, she was. Bet your parents didn’t even know.”
“That would be a safe bet, Miss Darlene. I’m ready.”

Darlene told her of Miriam: how she had watched over Moses as he floated down the Nile and made sure he was safe, and how she led the women out of Egypt in a victory dance, singing songs of praise to God, and how she rebelled against Moses, and God struck her with a skin disease, and they had to put her outside the camp for seven days.
“And you know there ain’t no worse hell for a pretty woman than a skin disease,” Darlene said, laughing.
To her own surprise, Miriam started laughing too.
When the laughter subsided, Darlene continued.
“But you see, Miriam got jealous because God talked to Moses in a way he didn’t speak to her. She got jealous of what Moses had, and forgot that the only reason Moses had that close relationship was because he had a job God wanted him to do.
“See, Miriam had to wait in the same bondage with the rest of her people until her brother came back, and she was older than him. It wasn’t her job to lead the people out, but she did lead the women, ‘cause Moses couldn’t understand how that bondage was for them. Womenfolk’s pain is always different from men; it goes through us in places they don’t have, and I don’t mean what you might think. It goes deeper, and stays longer, and hurts more; you know that now, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Ain’t no shame in knowin, child, and you found out young. Some women don’t find out til it’s way too late, and they lives is gone. Now this Miriam, she ain’t had no call to rise up against her brother, but y’see, people forget.
“She didn’t know Moses had to keep climbin’ mountains to speak to God, to keep on his knees to stop God from wipin’ the people out, cuz they was always complainin’. He had to work, to judge the people, to deal with their jealousy and pettiness.
“She was there, and she saw it all, but she didn’t know. All she saw was that God was talkin her brother in ways he didn’t talk to her, and it didn’t matter they was free, and on they way to a wonderful place.
“See, folks gets to lookin at what other folks have, and don’t know what they had to go through to get it, but they want it all the same.”
As Darlene spoke, a tear had pooled in the corner of Miriam’s lips, and she licked it off, tasting its bitterness. There had been harsh words and hard feelings at her departure. It all came down to one thing, the last thing she said before leaving: “I deserve better!”
Darlene let her words sink in as she looked at Miriam, who’d begun rocking the chair.
“You made the right choice to come back. Now, truth be told, girl, I don’t know why you got off that bus here, like you asked me earlier, but God knows. Now, you need to get on home, and let your heart and body heal from that beatin’ they done took.” “

“My family doesn’t know I’m here, Miss Darlene. I was afraid to tell them…”
“Honey, they know, and don’t you think they don’t. They didn’t know how long it would be. Soon’s they see you, they’ll know why you came back.”
“They may not be all that happy about it.”
“Well, my dealings with that side of town have not been good, but there’s only one way to find out, and it ain’t by staying here on this porch, now is it?”
“No,” Miriam said, looking at the broken glass.
“Well, I ‘spect they’ll be happier to see you than you think. Come here, girl.”
Miriam went to her, and knelt in front of her, and Darlene took Miriam’s face in her hands, lifting up her sea blue eyes to stare into the depths of her own rich brown ones; Miriam could see they were patient, kind, and full of life, lore, deep sadness and high joy, as her smooth pale cheeks were cupped in dark, calloused hands, like a warrior angel with a new-made chalice.
“You outside the camp now, Miriam, and you’re feeling diseased and wrong, but the only way you gon’ heal is by going back inside, among your own, and let them take care of you. Ain’t got no choice in the matter, no say-so. You spoke out against, and you went through your suffering days, and it’s time to get back. Whatever you do, from here on out, is gonna matter more not just to you, but to other folk, to your family, your husband, when you get one, your kids, when you have some. Your life is gonna be different now.
“You understand that?”
Miriam sighed, and shook her head, and rested it in Darlene’s lap awhile, as the old woman chuckled at the girl’s honesty, and stroked her hair, humming something low and sweet, and Miriam smiled. This was music.
After awhile, Darlene smiled and lifted her up as she got to her feet.
A cloud of dust was visible in the distance as the tires from the approaching bus rumbled over the road. The high sun lit it, fine and floating, a wind blown corona swirling in slow motion through the hot, still air.
“You wait here,” Darlene said, and went inside. She came back out with an old, yellow skinned tambourine, its shakers pitted with rust, its wood worn smooth and bright where hands gripped and slapped. There was a rotted piece of duct tape that was supposed to be a handle, and a smaller piece over a hole where her mother’s fingernail had pierced it.
She held it out to Miriam.
“This belonged to my mother,” said Darlene. “You take it.”
“Oh, Miss Darlene, I couldn’t!”
“Didn’t ask if you could, said I wanted you to take it. I want you to remind yourself of which Miriam you’re supposed to be. See, it’s just like you: it’s been beaten and shaken down to its core, but it’s still here. It got scars and hand marks, scrapes and patches, but it’s still here.”
She held the tambourine out again.
“So are you. You been through it, and now you need to lead others out.
“See, you think you comin’ home in defeat and shame, but you came out of that cesspool in victory, and now you know what to say to those young girls come after you gettin’ on that bus.”
Miriam opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She closed it, her face flushing.
She tried again, but all that came out was, “I don’t know how to play it.”
Darlene laughed.
“Child, neither did Mama! Didn’t stop her none. The deacons had to take this from her she threw the choir off so bad; she’d start out all right, but after ‘while seemed like she just played to the rhythm in her heart, and it wasn’t what was going on up there at all. Happened every Sunday too, sure as sunrise, til she got too old to hold it anymore.
“Then, they just laid it there beside her, and she’d rest her hand on it.”
She wrapped Miriam’s fingers around the worn taped handle.
“Just before she passed on, she told me to keep it, ‘cuz she was gon get a new one when she got home. She don’ need it no more. I don’ either.”
Miriam smiled, and took the gift.
“Thank you.”
The bus pulled to a stop, the nimbus of dust bursting around it like a beggar’s halo.
“You’ll learn to play it in time, and when you’re ready to lead out, you’ll understand. Your time of bondage is over.”
Miriam looked at the worn and battered tambourine, then back at Darlene.
“Over,” she repeated, half in wonder, half in affirmation.
“God bless you, Miriam.”
She kissed Darlene’s wrinkled cheek. “He already has.”
As she crossed the dusty road, she tapped the ancient tambourine lightly against her knee, its rusty jingle breaking the afternoon stillness.
When the bus was gone, Darlene looked at the washcloths hanging like ephods on the old railing, and down at the broken glass, glinting in the sunlight, like the precious stones waiting to be placed on them.
It was a shrine to their time together, and Darlene smiled.
“You gon’ be just fine.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

( May 16, 2014)

Little Queen

Little Queen, Little Queen

What can I give?

“Give me your heart,

that I might live.”

Little Queen, Little Queen

What shall I say?

“Tell me you love me,

every day.”

Little Queen, Little Queen

how shall I prove?

“If I come to sit by you,

don’t you move.”

Little Queen, Little Queen

Here is my heart

Long may I love you

Until I depart

“I love you too, daddy.

Now that it’s plain,

Won’t you come play with me

Out in the rain?”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Coming of Age

Of which age do I come?

On which day?

I don’t understand this,

for it seems to me that


are always

coming of age.

There are only

new times

new similarities


old changes

mixing with variation.



of maybes,

this life

I lead.

Coming of age

is holding aloft your

first born son


burying your father,

doing both with a hearty laugh

and tears of joy.


it seems to me,

are always

coming of age.

Every day he does not


he comes of age


© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Alis and The Book of Spells

It was after midnight, after the hunters have fed, and the young are asleep, and the night creatures keep watch over them until the break of dawn, when Alis got dressed, found her scarf, took her mother’s apron, and slipped out through the kitchen door.
She loved to explore the woods at night, and she took the apron because sometimes she would gather the herbs her mother would need for the healings scheduled that day. Her mother suspected, scolded her even, on the dangers of being in the woods so late, and Alis tried to listen, but the call of the forest was irresistible to her.
Young as springtime, older than forever, it pulled on her heart until she answered.
When a small light flickered in the tall grass, Alis went to investigate. At first she thought it was a firefly, and went to capture it, but only to hold it; she never captured them.
It pulsed again, way too bright for a firefly; something bigger then, but not large…?
Walking into the high grass, taller than she was, she felt the tendrils brush against her bare arms, and giggled. It was as if someone was painting her into existence, and tickling her at the same time.
The light pulsed, but it was growing weaker the closer she came.
When she stopped walking, the pulse grew stronger.

This was a dilemma; she didn’t know if what she approached was living or not, but she knew she wouldn’t leave until she figured out what the light was doing there.
“I’m sorry, little one,” she said, and walked determined toward her target.
The light seemed to go out, but when she got close enough to see, it still pulsed, barely shining, but it was still there.
It pulsed with the light of a small flame through its red garnet scales: a baby dragon.
Alis gasped in wonder, hurriedly looked about for signs of the mother; surely she would not leave her child here, in mortal danger from predators.
The little thing was on its side, little ribcage huffing out and in, and Alis realized it was dying.
“I’ll take you home.You’ll be safe there,” she said. “If your mother looks for you, she’ll find you safe and warm, and she’ll be grateful to me, and give me a ride, and let me come see you whenever I wish.”
The little dragon pulsed in response as Alis wrapped it tenderly in her scarf, and placed it in an apron pocket.
And there was another glimmer in the moonlight, something that made her look again. On the ground, where the dragon had been, was a small book, bound in black, its cover etched with gold, grand, ornate letters with serifs and flourishes, almost unreadable, but she managed to make it out.

The Book of Spells

The little dragon had been lying on top of the book.
How did she miss that?
Slowly, she looked around, knowing it was ridiculous; who would be watching a lone child in the woods at night?
She picked the book up, dusted it off, and put it in her other apron pocket.
She didn’t really know if she would make it home in time, but she was going to try.

Safely back in her room, she lit some candles, and put the dragon, still swaddled, in an open drawer, and peeled back the folded scarf.
The light was still pulsing, but had definitely dimmed.

Aros, her cat, a black and slender rogue, leaped on the dresser to see what his mistress brought, and licked his lips, looking down at the little red, warm morsel before him.
Alis stared at him, and he gave her an innocent look, as if food was the furthest thing from his mind.
She gave him a smile of quiet menace.
“If you eat him, Aros, I will eat you.”
Aros huffed through his nose, jumped down from the dresser, and curled up in his bed.
Satisfied, Alis went to see what she could find to help her patient.
Puttering around the shelves, she tried to keep the glass bottles from clinking, so her mother wouldn’t wake. In awhile, she managed some combination of herbs she thought would do the trick, crushed them with a pestle, blended them with some fresh water, found a dropper, and went back to her room, hoping against hope the creature wasn’t dead.

It wasn’t, and when she squeezed out what was in the dropper, it licked at the liquid.
Alis smiled in pride and pleasure; she was learning her mother’s craft,

becoming adept.
By the time she reached the end of the dropper, the dragon was able to lift its head.
While the candles burned, she leafed through the Book of Spells, and wondered how it was a small, abandoned baby dragon had come to be in the forest, perishing on top of a book of magic.

Chapter 2:

The spells themselves were magical; when she first opened the book, they were in another language she didn’t know, but as she looked at the letters, they began to writhe and turn and twist, rearranging themselves into her language.
She dropped the book in fright at first, not understanding, but curiosity got the better of her, and she picked it up again, surprised at the power contained in its pages, that it would know how to do such a thing.
Alis smiled, remembering her old beloved science teacher, who muttered

to himself as he went about the class, a ring of white hair around his bald scalp, like a laurel wreath covered in snow, speaking of Great Discoveries.
The way he said it, Alis always thought of the words starting with capital letters: A Great Discovery.
She wondered what he would think of the Book of Spells.
What you have made here, Alis, is a Great Discovery
Or would he be afraid? Was magic just a different sort of science, or something more?

She remembered the marching out of the warlocks and witches to burn in the surrounding lands outside, most of them beaten bloody, some stripped, some whipped, some weeping, and some defiant to the last, but all of them afraid and unwilling to die…
The sound of fires, of screams, of cheers, of screams fading to silence, of leaving feet, and Alis staring, a small child, easily unnoticed in the bloodthirsty gathering, standing just inside the ring of sheltering trees, looking at the blackened bones that had but a while ago supported and framed living flesh.
She stayed, looking, walking about in horrified fascination, staring up at the remains, some of whom still had their eyes somehow, until the first of the crows came in the early evening, when the smoke had cleared…

She didn’t want to think about that now.
Yes, Alis, you’ve made a Great Discovery, but you had better get some sleep. You didn’t gather any herbs, and Mother may want to go in the morning.
The Book of Spells went under the bed; she decided to leave the drawer open, in case the dragon needed to stretch, and she blew out the candles.
She looked over at Aros, who was still in his basket, sleeping.
She hoped he knew she wouldn’t really eat him, but with Aros, it was better to keep him guessing; he could be such a cuss sometimes.
Pulling her covers up, she took a deep breath, settled in, and looked out at the setting moon until she drifted off to sleep.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

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