ArtSunday: The Broadman Hymnal


My parents split when I was three years old and I was sent to live with my paternal grandparents. My father was around – he lived a couple blocks away as I was growing up – but I didn’t see him much. In essence, my grandfather, Samuel Linville Smith, was my father. I will ever be grateful for the courage mustered, at the age of 51 – the age I am right now – to take on the out-of-control bundle of energy and insecurity that I was at that age and to raise me to the point where I might actually achieve something in life.

He died in 1984 and I miss him every day. Happy Father’s Day, Granddaddy. This is for you.


-for Samuel Linville Smith

I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

1. Church

Sam said he wasn't afraid to die.

He'd beaten cancer twice, and
it's hard to beat
	   three in a row...

and he thought of church,
those last days –
Easton, Union Cross,
New Friendship,
		   and finally Wallburg, all Baptist –

	the hallelujah
	of gospel choirs,
	joyful noises for the Lord,

the amen
	    and musty smell of contentment,
like the frayed back of
the Broadman Hymnal,

the smell of "Amazing Grace"
he washed his hands
for Sunday dinner.

And he waited,
as if death
	     was an old friend
coming down the road
with a dipper and a bucket
full of spring
         cool at the end of a plow-
long day.

2. Weathervane

There rides the weathercock over
his forgotten barn,
the simple Sunday
herald of the texture of wheatfields.

It's almost as if they built the barn
just for him,
hayloft high and red, brimming over
with horses,
	       and crowned him
like the pride of the shiny new 1920s.

And there he was,
the dance and spin
		      and the glimmer,
golden as the spatter of first light
filling the yard,
		  the mist now like pollen,
dusting the tin-cup coolness of daybreak.

He was here
	        like early evening and the drowse
after supper, the dewpoint
gathering on tomato vines,
			       the meandering
float of honeysuckle breath,
and the timeless back and forth
of the front porch swing.

He was here watching a country sunset
as the moon and the dark
and an early star
climbed the sky
		  behind him.
There rides the weathercock

	above the barn skeleton,
	empty bins once full of Indian corn
	and sheets of tin roof
		where they fell,

his memory a workday haze,
humidity, the loft,
100 degrees and the haydust choke
sticking to the skin
		      like sorghum.

3. Evening

Night is an accumulation of small
	      the lazy gathering
of shadows like children
playing from tree to tree
until their parents
		     call them in.

And the spackled summer of things
falls away,
	     a warmness between winters,
and like apples rotting on the ground
we are bound, at last,
to where we started.

He lived the fresh
		     turning of soil,

a steady place for the root to hold,
loam richness and the mute lift
     out of the dark,

	dirt shoulders
	for the tree to stand on.

Such men should pass
their sudden fields, or
	 to the moonyard
lament of hoot owls,
while beagles
	         dream of running.


“The Broadman Hymnal” originally appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature in April of 2003.

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