Jacob Smith of Somerset

    “Jacob Smith of Somerset,” Ensign, Jan. 1977, 53

    Jacob Smith of Somerset

    From dust they came, to dust they went,

    And among the flecks of dust I hunt for them.

    It’s only from a distance that they look the same—

    They have more variety than snowflakes,

    Although like six-pointed crystals they wear vital statistics

    In perfect order across the papers and the books.

    Among all the Jacob Smiths of Somerset

    Is one whose wife was Elizabeth,

    Whose trade was tanning, whose sons

    All went to America, who was born

    Around 1599, who died who-knows-when.

    But I must know when, and when he married,

    Where he was born, where he is buried,

    So that when all the dust is winnowed at the end

    He can hear his known and unknown names

    And rise.

    See how the dust rises in the shaft of sunlight

    From my afternoon window. The light and the dust

    Fall imperceptibly on my hands

    And hold them to the book, to the page, to the pen.