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Review of Curtis Smith’s Witness

Sunnyoutside Press, 2010


By M.M. Wittle

sssIn life, we are either an active participant to the events around us, or we are the watcher. In the latest collection of essays by Curtis Smith, Witness, readers are introduced to a man who is both a participant in his life and an observer. In the essay titled, “We Care!” Smith gives a reading survey of car bumper stickers. The people driving those cars want you to “Save the Ta-tas” or want other drivers to “Honk if you support....” Smith wonders if there is perhaps a mathematical equation to justify how much caring we can give and when we can allow ourselves to stop caring. As the essay closes, Smith proposes that in order for us to truly show we care, we need to embrace that care with our hearts.

Being a cancer survivor, what I remember most from my battle with the disease is when my friend, after hearing that I was going to have surgery, drove down from Boston to Philadelphia to hold my hand. During both of my cancer removal surgeries (as I like to call them) this same friend sat in my hospital room with me when everyone else left to go home. He does not need to announce that he cares; he shows it through his actions.

In another poignant essay called “The Prettiest Lie,” Smith briefly describes the pregnancy and birth of his son. He looks at his swaddled son and remarks that everyone was once new born, and he feels compelled to tell his son and everyone in the hospital that “everything is going to be OK.”

The collection ends with the essay, “Witness.” Smith recounts the last days before his father’s death and the impact this had on him as well as his son. No matter how old one is, the death of a parent is a striking blow. When I was seventeen, I witnessed my mother’s passing. It was difficult watching a woman who was once so strong, and whose whistle could stop me in my tracks, do nothing for herself. It frightened me. When she died, she could finally have peace, and yet her death left a huge void in my world as well as a void for future generations.

With Witness, I felt like I was having a conversation with Smith at a coffee shop, discussing the things he saw in the world and how they infiltrated his mind and soul.

M.M. Wittle is an MFA Candidate at Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. For the past five years, she has been a member of the fiction board of the local nonprofit literary magazine Philadelphia Stories.