Author Archive

Spring Comes to Old Town, Maine

March 20, 2018


The March rain is colder growing,
snow will fall on ice tonight.
Summer thoughts are huddled low in
nests of lint with summer’s mice. 

Who will sing cuccu, cuccu? 

Old panes crackle, house beams buckle,
melt waters freeze below the spouts.
Snow squalls dance with bones of maple
as this gray equinox blacks out.

 And no one sings cuccu, cuccu.


First published in Mostly Maine.


House in Scarborough, Maine - photo by Mike Smetzer.

House in Scarborough, Maine – photo by Mike Smetzer.


Late-Night Café in Missouri

March 16, 2018


It’s 9 p.m. and they’re
        out of mashed potatoes
        out of corn
        almost out of beef
        (Mine’s the last order) 

In the john the air dryer’s
out of air 

Behind the cashier they are
out of Brach’s candies
in the Candyland display! 

The tossed salad is out of
everything but lettuce 

The waitress is out of pep
so the cook refills my coffee 

Got any apple pie tonight?
Sorry  he says  you’re
        out of luck


First published in Poetry Now (No, not in either of those. In the big tabloid that existed in California in the 1970’s).


Winter Seeds - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Winter Seeds – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.


After Failing at Sex I Dream of Garage Doors Opening

March 12, 2018


Returning apologetic with tacos
I get out of my car and pause outside
our garage door in the night 

The touch of my finger opens the door
The touch of my finger closes the door
and opens it again 

I am opening and closing our garage door! 

Spotlights whip across the sky
Orion dances 

And all the garage doors in our town
are opening and closing together


First published in Platte Valley Review.


Mike's Master Garden! - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Mike’s Master Garden! – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Working the Tar House: A Steel Mill Poem

March 9, 2018


All day you sit with the pumps
and smell the tar, hot tar on its way
to the power station’s boilers.

Some days they burn gas.
Then if it’s warm you leave
a single pump idling
and sit outside in the shade
of the two-story tar tank.

You set your hard hat on the concrete
and watch smoke trail from the stacks
or stare at the blast furnace lights.

In winter you stay inside.
Tar leaks over everything.
It runs out hot and fluid,
then hardens to asphalt.

Tar on your hands,
tar on your blue-gray clothes,
bits of tar in your ham sandwiches.
Tar and layers of tar
on the pipes and pumps and floor.

Conversation is a call
to add or take off a pump.
Even with four pumps on,
there is little to do.

Each day, for each active pump,
you change the metal filter
that strains out the hard chunks.

First you hammer the valve lever
to divert the flow.
Then you unscrew the nuts
that hold down the filter lid.

You slide a pipe under the handle
and pry up the twenty-pound lid
until you break the tar’s seal.

When the seal breaks, the lid flies up,
snags on the bolts, and falls back down
with a clap and a spray of hot tar.

You raise the lid and set it off.
With a hook you lift out
the steel filter, dripping tar,
and carry it in a bucket
to a bubbling bath of solvent and steam.

You put a clean filter in
and bolt down the lid,
tightly, so the pressure won’t spray tar.

Your buddy has left five-gallon buckets
to fill up under leaks.
Slopping tar on your pants,
you haul them out to the chest-high hopper.

Or nights you dump them
in the waste pool of water and sludge,
the safety pit under the tar tank.

For hours you sit on a bucket
and watch the pressure gauge on the line.
You breathe the vapors and
you sweat among the pipes.

After work you go home with a smell
you can’t wash away.
It clings to you through all your days off.

Some nights you stop along the road
and vomit from the vapors that condense
as a black goo on the hairs of your nose.

Your skin itches where the tar
has soaked your clothes
and stained you black.


First published in New Letters.


Great Uncle Harve at Home - Kept by Viola Smetzer

Great Uncle Harve at Home

End of Winter

March 7, 2018


Sloshing through marsh
at the end of winter
in hip boots
with snow still stuck
to the willows
Sky above is featureless gray
and oak-covered hills
are black-gray lines
with brown tatters

To the south an angry farmer
calls his son
To the north water trickles
through dead grass
Legs and face
are numb and still
Only the heart
is whispering


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).


Dad's '51 Plymouth Still Waiting for a Tow - photo by Mike Smetzer.

Dad’s ’51 Plymouth Still Waiting for a Tow – photo by Mike Smetzer.

The Political Thought of the Elephant & Donkey Parties

March 4, 2018


I have known for years that most people believe, if the flushed toilet fills up but does not drain, your best strategy is to flush again. Yesterday I realized that this conviction underlies the political thinking of the Republican and Democratic parties over the last one hundred and fifty years.


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


The Wart: A Fairy Tale & a Dream

March 2, 2018


When you wake up in the morning, your nose itches.
When you look in the mirror, you see a wart.

Everywhere you go people glance quickly and look sick.
You hide it with your hand, but it grows.

So you go to the doctor and he cuts it off.
In a week it has grown back, larger.

You wear a band-aid over your nose.
People look at you like a sewer.

Your lover cannot stand the band-aid and leaves town.
The note saying good-bye is written to your wart.

No one remembers your name. You are “the man
with the wart,” “the wart man,” 
or simply “The Wart.”

Your neighbor hangs rings of garlic above his door.
Nothing you try takes it off.

The wart covers all your nose. Women scream.
Children call you “Monster.”  You only go out at night.

The wart breaks up into many scaly lumps.
They spread around your eyes.

A plastic surgeon cuts away your face,
but the roots have reached into your brain.

Warts come up along the edges of the plastic.
They are filling in your ears.

A preacher visits you and tells you to pray.
You take his hands and are born again to Jesus.

The next day his hands sprout warts.
He does not return.

One morning you are blind.
Warts are growing on your eyes.

You can no longer hear so you lie in bed and dream.
In your dream you are a handsome knight.

A princess kisses you and her lips burst out in warts.
You kiss her and all your warts pass onto her body.

When you wake up you are well. Only dry husks
are scattered in your bed. 
You are weak but joyful.

At noon your lover returns, covered with warts.
She has come back to embrace you.


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).


Angel with the Book - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Angel with the Book – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

My Last Race

February 28, 2018


I reached the finish before the others
but my son was not looking,
my wife was in the john.

Then the line stretched into my only dimension,
and I moved sideways along that line
like a bead along a string. 

Runners broke through,
like sparks across a tunnel
I could never leave.


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).


"Old Shoes 2" - photo by Mike Smetzer

“Old Shoes 2” – photo by Mike Smetzer

What Would Arming Teachers Mean for Education Politics?

February 24, 2018


President Trump and the NRA want to arm high-school and grade-school teachers. Well, that should make crossing the picket line at the next teachers’ strike a lot more interesting.

Carrying a gun generally makes people feel more confident and assertive. How is that going to play out for school administrators? Teacher passivity has always been the school administration’s ace in the hole. Next time a teachers’ meeting is called to announce layoffs and class size increases, the superintendent may want to send some assistant principal to break the news.

And how about those conservative governors and legislators who slash away at school budgets? Would they like to confront an armed and angry teachery?

Has Trump really thought this through? Maybe arming teachers would do something good for the country. But maybe it’s not the something he has in mind. There’s no way carrying a gun is going to turn teachers into revolutionaries, but it might give them more backbone in confronting local and national politicians.

Hey, Betsy DeVos, a few million teachers would like to speak to you outside.


Dad with Other Shop Teachers in Hobart, Indiana

Dad (upper right) with Other Shop Teachers in Hobart, Indiana

Train Whistles: A Poem Before Change

February 23, 2018


The vibrations of trains come up the old wood frame
from the tracks a block north
Trains whistle through the window cracks 

Lying under an old blanket
in the unheated upstairs
The dampness rising from the Kansas River
In the garret strangeness of someone else’s house

How did I arrive among these old flood-washed timbers?


First published in Tellus as “Before Completion.”


Aroostook Highway - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Aroostook Highway – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.