Salamanders

August 20, 2017 by

 

When I was twelve I caught a spotted salamander
      in the yard
and took him in a jar to school.
When I appeared with him in science class,
the teacher stood above me at a loss.
“Why did you bring it here?  We’ve all seen
      salamanders.”
This hadn’t occurred to me.
Because it delighted me to have caught him,
I brought him.

 

First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).

 

Discussion

I find one of the best ways to deal with the memory of an embarrassing or painful experience, is to write it into a poem. I have a lot of poems.

Below is a photo of my older sister Rose. As a teenager, Rosalee told my little sister and me that she had arrived on a space ship, which seemed about right to us. However, it appears she actually rode into our parents’ lives on a horse.

 

Rosalee Smetzer on a horse

Rosalee Smetzer on a horse

Rose and Granddad Smetzer

Rose and Granddad Smetzer

Bernie and Rosalee Smetzer

Dad and Rose

Mike, Rose and Jean Smetzer

Mike, Rose and Jean

Animals Hunting

August 18, 2017 by

 

In the supermarket animals are hunting
for eggs.
They are digging out potatoes
and fondling ripe melons.
Young pairs graze together down aisles.
An old female is poking the buns
while young hunters bring in peaches
and pile them in bins.
Animals carry food to the counter.
After sniffing and other rituals they pass
and hurry to dens with broccoli and
beef hearts.

  

First published in Kansas Quarterly.

 

Koi - photo by Mike Smetzer

Koi – photo by Mike Smetzer

Waiting Among the Dead

August 16, 2017 by

 

Every morning dead crawdads pile up at my door
like nestlings dropped from a tree
I shovel them into bags and carry them out back
For every day a new bag lining my alley
They stink through the fly-covered plastic
My neighbor Allen says eat them fresh

He comes and sits on my steps
We watch lines of ants searching the bleached grass
Allen scratches dying skin from his legs
and ants carry it away

All day the sun on cracked clay and hot steps
A dripping hose has drawn four-inch slugs
They lie around in the morning like dead moths
Allen says they are shell-less snails
Eat them French

The summer sun shines all day and on into the night
I walk the streets and feel the sweat blossom
like mushrooms above the band of my cap
I haven’t shaved or bathed, and my mouth tastes
like instant coffee
When I piss it is dark yellow and kills the leaves
Where I piss daily earth worms gather
pink and fishy white

I wear no sandals and refuse to wash my feet
As I lie in bed I can feel small insects moving
between my toes
Skunks gather at my door to eat the slugs and crawdads
In the morning they are dead
I shovel their corpses into bags for Allen’s alley

Allen dies eating crawdads in his garden
His wife returns my bags of corpses
They are overflowing my alley
All day I watch for rain
My nose cracks and bleeds
and my tongue is cloth

On Sunday I follow a crow to the graveyard
It calls to me from Allen’s stone
The grass around his grave is rich with green
At dusk a crawdad peeks out of his hole
Allen’s eyes shine up at me like rubies

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

An earlier version of this poem was first published in Tellus.

 

Discussion

This is an August poem from the decade I spent living with and without air conditioning in Kansas. It commemorates the dog days of summer and of my life. If you have never felt this way yourself, I salute you.

I think of it as the feeling Jimi Hendrix must have had when he wrote “I Don’t Live Today.” But with way too much sun instead of no sun coming in through the window.

“Oh, no. Oh, there ain’t no life nowhere.”

 

Detail from "Moon Night" - acrylic painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Moon Night” – acrylic painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Pondering the Alt-Left

August 15, 2017 by

 

Yesterday an FB friend reported being yelled at by the alt-left for not being progressive enough. Her experience got me thinking.

Back in the 80’s I published an article in a little magazine that presented an argument for pornography. A politically correct friend of mine read it. He said he thought the author’s points were interesting, but he decided that he did not think the author was right and therefore the article should not have been published.

For me that illustrated the extent to which the “political correctness” of the 1970’s had become liberal fundamentalism. A concept that had begun with humor had turned into dogma. Political correctness developed the rigidity, intolerance and tunnel vision of any belief held from a fundamentalist mindset. Politically correct thinking worked just like conservative Baptist thinking. I don’t fully understand alt-left thinking, but it seems to be like that of The Westboro Baptist Church.

Thinking farther back, the 60’s were wonderful to live through because they had a richness of diversity and innovation. So did the early Christian church. Political and religious movements in their youth are like a slurry of just-mixed concrete, with its individual grains of sand and stones and lime. That slurry is then poured into molds. Fundamentalism is what you have after the concrete has set. It makes a great foundation for building an institution. But it cannot change or adapt. It remains fixed until it cracks or crumbles.

 

Mike's Truck Starting a Long Decline - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Mike’s Truck Starting a Long Decline – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

That’s All There Is

August 13, 2017 by

 

A row of fence posts
down the road.
You don’t see the man
who dug the holes
and planted the posts
and stretched the wire.
You don’t see him.
You just see posts going by
and the wire
and off in the distance
the sky.

 

First published in West Branch.

 

Minimalism in Writing and Art

Minimalism in writing and art focuses on a few key details and gives them a straightforward presentation. Such work is simple, stark and yet resonant, often implying more than is described or shown. Minimalism is rich, but not like a kaleidoscope is rich. It is rich in its simplicity, like the color of a gemstone or the light a single firefly in the night.

 

Bridge Superstructure - detail from photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Bridge Lines – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Who wins a new Korean War?

August 12, 2017 by

If we have a full nuclear war, everyone loses, but if we have a conventional or tactical nuclear war with N. Korea, who wins? I’m thinking China.

Both North and South Korea would be in shambles.  Whether China fights us directly or not, they would have to intervene in order to restore order in the peninsula. China could then solve their Korea problem by taking over at least N. Korea as they did Tibet and absorbing it into what amounts to their modern Chinese empire. Afterwards they might push for a Hong-Kong style reunification of North and South.

No other world power has the resources to remake Korea and I think China is positioned to do just that.

Upside Down

August 11, 2017 by

 

Upside down beside the walk,
a gray squirrel hung on a tree,
a tag on his ear, a twitch in his nose,
and a sad little look for me.

“Squirrel,” I said, “You’re gray as lead.
Who stuck that tag on thee?
Some student crew has a project due
for a class in zoology.”

To hang in the air as dull as a bear
who sleeps in a sewer drain.
To stare at a man who is reaching a hand
to staple a tag by your brain.

To twitch like a sprout that is twisting about
under a new-paved lane.
To look down at me here under your tree
and not even know to complain.

  

First published in Mostly Maine.

 

Mikey Feeds a Squirrel, Florida, 1950's - photo probably by Bernie Smetzer

Feeding a Squirrel, Florida, 1950’s

 

The Letter

August 9, 2017 by

 

By a hydrant where a postman
dropped a letter on the ground,
sat a vagrant being vagrant
when the letter fluttered down.

On the battered, buttered vagrant
dropped the letter falling down,
but the vagrant only muttered
and the postman kept his round.

Now a vagrant and a letter
are both vagrant on the ground
by a noble fire hydrant
that the postman steps around,

and the vagrant often mutters
of such matters that astound,
but the letter knowing better
only flutters up and down.

 

First published in Mostly Maine.

 

Discussion

“The Letter” comes with a deep “Puss in Boots” bow and sweep of the hat to all the great children’s poetry and prose that we have inherited. They say many older children’s poems had hidden meaning, now largely forgotten. “The Letter” jump starts the process by starting out life with no hidden meaning whatsoever. It is simply meant to be listened to and enjoyed.

Below is a word design or concrete poem that is not meant to be listened to at all, but is meant to be seen and enjoyed. Just as “The Letter” is a bit of nonsense poetry, “oNo” is a bit of nonsense word art. Creative nonsense is essential to my happiness. Of course, some may prefer science, mathematics or diplomacy. From what I can figure out from quantum physics and the Trump administration, it all comes together in the end.

 

"oNo" - a word design by Mike Smetzer

“oNo” – a word design. Offered here as a emblem for the year 2017.

 

First published in Phoebus.

 

My Endless Summer

August 7, 2017 by

Does anyone remember the 1966 movie The Endless Summer? Two surfers travel around the world, northern and southern hemispheres to surf the year round. What freedom! What hedonistic pleasure! Ah, the 60s.

Now the other day I was creeping a U-boat from produce to the backroom through tourists who either had no awareness there could be anyone else in the world or who looked at me with that “I’m not moving till I’m ready” glare. And, of course, answering questions: “Where in the hell did you put the bacon!?” “Uh, in the meat department.”

“This summer is endless,” I said to myself. Then it hit me. The Endless Summer. It’s a horror movie!

"Yes?" - photo of mountain goat by Bernie Smetzer

“Yes?” – photo by Bernie Smetzer

A Kansas Anthem

August 6, 2017 by

 

The wind and dust blew up the hill,
        the dust from the wind fell down.
And I awoke on the windless side
        all clothed in a fine dust gown.

“Oh see,” said I to a passerby,
        “my suit of Kansas Gray.
Come feel the loft of the down so soft
        our sky has thrown away.”

“I swear,” swore he, “by a cottonwood tree
        run through with a fencing foil,
your Kansas dust smells sharp as rust
        and feels like tractor oil.

“I’ve been to Maine and I’ve been to Spain
        and filled my sight with riches,
but my eyes are filled in Kansas land
        by dirt blown out of ditches.”

Oh hey hum hey for a Kansas day
        when the sky is gray and swirly.
Oh naw de naw for the gritty jaw
        that turns bright strangers surly.

 

First published in Midwest Quarterly.

 

Discussion

I wrote this poem after a small dust storm blew through Lawrence, Kansas. In eastern Kansas it was a rare event and also a wonderful reminder of the nature of the land where we lived.

After centuries of use, the ballad stanza remains a wonderful asset for the poet, especially when the poem has an element of humor. Meter and rhyme are natural choices for those who want to dance with language and life. They contain a magic formula for joy more powerful than any happy pill.

While meter and rhyme work less well in serious poetry today, poetic rhythms (as opposed to meter) and subtle rhymes can create beauty and enhance significance, even for readers accustomed to prose.

But as they sing in the theater, “Tragedy tomorrow, Comedy tonight!”

 

Bernie Smetzer and the chickens

Dad with his Chickens

 

Bernie Smetzer and the chickens 2

Dad and the chickens

Bernie Smetzer reins in the chicken

Dad reins in the chicken