Apple Trees

July 19, 2017 by

 

Suicide is private.
Your students and teachers
are not invited.
You are alone in an old truck
with the light on
and the needle touching your vein,
and you don’t want to die,
and the needle depresses your skin.
You think of someone you loved
as the ripple runs up your arm
and you want to cry.
You want your friends to bleed.

In the turning of the world,
you smell gasoline and dust,
and somewhere
apple trees

 

First published in Kansas Quarterly.

 

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

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

Prairie Summer

July 16, 2017 by

 

Always under the heavy sun there is time.
You look around and nothing has changed.
The hills are more steady than the heart.

Clouds move for days across the sky,
like strangers down the highway
looking for some other place.

 

First published in Little Balkans Review

 

Discussion

I lived for over a decade in Kansas, leaving and coming back twice. It is as much home to me as the Valparaiso Moraine in Indiana, where I grew up. The steadiness and simplicity resonate in me. Human culture and opportunity are weak on the plains, but the land is strong. Old hills make reassuring neighbors. The Rocky Mountains are much more exciting, but they can be entirely too adolescent and rowdy.

 

"Sunset" squared - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

“Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Bill Acres Explains His Life

July 14, 2017 by

 

It’s better to be drunk and happy.
When I’m down I miss those early summer leaves.
I don’t feel that off-white warmth of concrete
in the sun.

I don’t see nothing sober.
I just smell my own dirty toes.
I don’t see that rich Kansas soil.
I don’t see those concrete slabs lined out
     fallen dominoes
          all the way to the park.

Hey!  Those black and white bird droppings are
a clue to life.
They say, “Bill,  look up!  You’ll see what’s
coming down.”
But it can’t kill me.
I wipe it off and laugh.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer
An earlier version of this poem was first published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review ).

 

Discussion

Most of us know mean drunks, sad drunks, and happy drunks. Moralists tell us getting drunk at all is bad. We should face our life soberly and responsibly no matter how it makes us feel.

I don’t advocate getting drunk. But the man I’m calling Bill was not strong enough to face his memories and feelings sober. Drinking gave him some time to be happy. Buddhists believe it can take many lives for a soul to reach enlightenment. Few of us are going to make it this time around.

 

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

A Love Poem

July 12, 2017 by

 

As serious as a colony of bees
to do the Queen’s bidding,
we gather berries wild and fresh.
You won’t let the dog out
of the car for fear she will pee
where we might pick, you want
nothing to spoil your dreams
of dessert tonight.
It is tonight I think of,
under this inhospitable sun
offering myself as a feast
for Maine black flies.
After supper, you’ll add
Alizarin Crimson to your
watercolor painting.
I’ll write a strawberry poem.
We’ll walk the dog and race her
home to the front door.
Later as moonlight shares
our bed, I’ll know you
enjoyed your strawberries,
know this day has made you happy.
I’ll touch you gently as you sleep,
close my eyes and sigh.

 

First published in Echoes Magazine.

Vera Lisa Smetzer on Steps

Vera Lisa Smetzer on Steps

Done with Ralph

July 11, 2017 by

 

Where I meet Ralph?
In my world, before I immigrate.
You listen, officer. I tell you.
My earth good world once.
Sweet flowers. Sweet people.
Like this earth.
Everything go wrong.…

Wild, biting dogs run through streets.
Every day. All kinds of dogs.
Crazy birds, bats drop from sky.
“No problem,” Zosh say,
“just look up and watch your feet.”

Zosh and me, we sixteen.
Zosh, he big, ugly, nasty.
Never bathe.
Stuff grow on Zosh
like moss on rotten log.

People tell me,
“You too small, boy.
You too cute to live.”
So I hang with Zosh.

Zosh? No ask about Zosh.
He not immigrate. Never meet Ralph.
Zosh friend back then.…
You ask where I meet Ralph.
I tell where we meet.
We meet in my world.
You listen.…

When I not with Zosh,
I watch men close.
Sharp eyes. I see souls.
I know when to run.
I run fast, too.
I run and dodge
and stay on feet.
I still alive.

No, no.
Soul not just in eyes.
I see souls in way people stand, move, sleep.
From anywhere. From behind in dark.…
Sure. Right now. I see you.
You immigration officer
but you straight-up, cool guy.
So we talk.…

Nights it rain
I stay inside with others.
Plenty boarded-up wrecks.
Apartments. Stores. Offices.
Spirits move like drafts
through those rooms.
The dead!
I hate dead!

All of them.
My parents. My sister.
Let them move along to hell!
We done with them!

Maybe you not know dead.…

When dead touch you,
ice shoot up spine.
It take hours to warm up.

I not see dead coming.
Only feel them,
and not tell from where.
Which way to run?
Then that chill!

Zosh say dead want something.
I thinking stake through heart!

Funeral? Maybe funeral help.
We not have time.…

Every morning, fresh kills.
We chuck bodies out of
apartments, hallways, alleys.
Food for dogs!
They not stink up our space.
But chills linger.

I know dead by chill sometimes,
if they someone I fight or fuck.
Not much there for living.
Nothing for dead.
But chills stay.

I get out.
Needy dumbass take me out.
I spot him first time through.
I not see him before
and I watching.

Yeah, Ralph.…

Nice clothes. Hot flycar!
I get in off those streets
and Ralph fly me out.
We go to your earth camp.
Nothing back there I want.
Nobody neither.

Ralph safe.
Just tame dog sniffing round.
You not like his touch
but it candy after chill’s.
It get me out.

No. Not see him, maybe, five months.
No ask me where he go. We bust up.
He move along. Cold son of bitch!…

Yeah, I got his flycar.
He not need it. Sweet ride!…
No. I not keep that place. Too cold.
Got my own place. Snug. No drafts.
I trade fridge for bigger stove. It nice.…

Yeah, it hot for this coat.
People say I wear too much clothes.
Zosh say, you wear your clothes,
you know no one else is.…

Look for Ralph?! Not till I miss him!…
Hey! No ask me find Ralph!
You officers come round, ask questions.
I give something for reports. Me good citizen.
But I chuck Ralph out.
He not sweet as he smell.
I done with Ralph!…

Sure, I OK.
I learn English. I get job. Good job.
Everything fine.
Come from my world, not much trouble you.
I just go nowhere I feel chill.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

Discussion

This story is cross-genre oddity. It is a science fiction story set in an alternate reality where travel and immigration between parallel universes are possible. It is also a ghost story, a sexual exploitation story, and possibly a murder story. And, of course, it is in verse.

Like “Skunky’s Steel Mill Story,” which was published here in June, “Done with Ralph” is a short short story or flash fiction written using the line structure of verse. Written out as prose, verse fiction reads like concentrated prose fiction. But the line breaks add intensity and emphasis that make the story more powerful. That said, verse structure simply will not work for most fiction. Even if you have a story that would benefit from verse, simply chopping up the prose to create lines will produce an embarrassment. Recasting a story as verse requires a complete line-by-line revision.

 

Swimmers, Acrylic Painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Swimmers, Acrylic Painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

A Naked Man

July 9, 2017 by

 

A naked man is standing in my yard
He is staring in my window trying
to see my clothes
When I pass the window
I must crawl below the sill

He will not go away
When I call the police no one answers

Yesterday he saw me dressed for work
My dress shirt and tie were exposed
His gaze ravaged my slacks
That night he saw my T-shirt and jeans
I am afraid to take out my laundry

In the morning I will not raise the blinds
until I take off my clothes

 

First published in Poetry Now (not by either of the current magazines by that name, but the one that existed in California in the 1970’s).

 

Discussion

I did not write this poem because I am a nudist, but because I am not. It seems I have spent my life like a flea hiding inside my clothes. Clothes give us a place to hide our little lives. A flea who comes out of hiding gets squished. A flea that stays hidden survives. Of course, other people might not see me as a flea. They might see me as a very fine naked gentleman. But to find out I must risk getting squished.

No punctuation   No clothes

 

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

New Life on an Old Farm

July 5, 2017 by

 

Ivy pushes asphalt shingles apart,
cascading from an outhouse roof.

Aphids suckle the last dangling limbs
of broken and heart-rotten willows.

Maggots infest a stray cat’s sores,
its breathing heavy in the weeds.

New hungers crowd over the earth,
churning stale air with eddies of wings.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

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

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

“Living the Dream”

July 3, 2017 by

 

Walked into the supermarket’s backroom last night. Found the night crew seated as a chamber ensemble and playing Handal. The store’s managers were dressed in costumes from 1776 and dancing a minuet among the pallets with the maintenance team. Happy as clams here in Maine! Living some sorta dream.

 

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Circling Back

June 30, 2017 by

 

A long road under thunder.

Deer alert among cattle.
A fox sidling through clear-cut.

Then white clouds shadowing corn.
The grassy in-road through fields.

Cracked melons in the garden weeds.
Toadstools rotting by the barn.

*

Circling back, and back.

A hike through mud under snow.
Then the steep path of loose stones

up through a patch of wintering rye
to the window watched only in memory.

New dogs growl from the gate.
Loud, strange voices shriek from the barn.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer
An earlier version was first published in 2014 by Off the Coast.

Woods Road in Missouri - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Woods Road in Missouri – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Spirit Door

June 29, 2017 by

 

Our north door leads out at night
to a world of darkness and stars.
Our north door leads in by day
to dankness and shadows. No sun,
no moon looks through a north door.

Our north door is cold, dark, hidden.
The air outside is an ear listening.
We meet what knocks with care.
A stick insect rocking on the screen
may hunger with a grandfather’s eyes.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

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

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