Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Reconstructive Criticism: Not Just for Poets

May 23, 2018


When the Inquisitor comes you will be
in bed with your poems
He will summon you by banging pipes
in your dreams

His hands will knead your shoulders like clay
and he will speak as a just god 

     Who is the you of your poems?
     Why is he drowning in dreams?
     Why is he listening to stones? 

He will circumcise your excess with a pen

He will re-form your point of view
and when he leaves you will be he


First published in Mostly Maine.


At Palace Playland. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

At Palace Playland. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.


A Quiet Man: Someone You May Know

May 4, 2018


He’s somewhere with you in a crowd
walking along
perhaps beside you


What the doctor gave him
turned his urine orange

If he were a braggart 

      He could startle old men in courthouse johns
      He could tell weeping women he has given them
      Believers could come to him to bathe and be

But he is a quiet man
He will piss in pop bottles
to leave on the steps 

for your children


First published in Cottonwood Review’s Open House.


Rock City in Mid 1950s - Photo by Bernie Smetzer

Rock City in mid 1950s. Photo by Bernie Smetzer

Old Man of the Road

April 27, 2018


At dusk, an old man walks by these country houses.
Sometimes, as children lie in bed, they hear
the distant crunch of his feet in gravel.  Over
and over, but muffled, of course, out on the road.
Impossible to hear except on a warm spring night
when the house is quiet and the windows open
and the summer insects are yet to be born.
Then sometimes again in Indian summer. 

I used to hear his footsteps on our road.
Old man of evening.  Old man of ragged clothing.
I imagined him walking into the dark, never stopping,
but glancing sometimes at my window, wondering
what small child lived there.


First published in Kansas Quarterly.


Remains of Farm Wagon Behind Our House - photo by Mike Smetzer

Remains of Farm Wagon Behind My Parents’ House – photo by Mike Smetzer

Blonde with Fingers

April 23, 2018


In the rain a passing car and in the car
          one blonde head
and a white hand waving. Who? I wonder.
          Who is waving?

A red car, maroon red. One blonde, smiling head.
          A waving hand,
fingers spread. Slishing north. Who’s the girl
          with that blonde head?

The rain that ripples down the street
          at the corners ripples feet.
The drops that dripple from my ears
          trickle down my underwear.

My heart is damp and soaked with care,
          but my mind can only stare
After that girl with that blonde hair
          waving those fingers in the air.


First published in Mostly Maine.


Vera Lisa on a T-Bird - photo kept by Vera Lisa (Metastasio) Smetzer

Vera Lisa on a T-Bird

Wasp on the Window Glass

April 18, 2018


I saw a wasp on the window glass today
a cold wet uncomfortable day 

The wasp hung unmoving in the cold
waiting for the sun to heat its blood 

Snappy yellow legs  Its body striped with black
glass-drawn and fresh but silent as an empty circus 

It did at times begin to clean itself
look active   come to life 

Yet it did not fly
Again it spread its legs upon the glass


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).


Waiting - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Waiting – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Rising Above: A Poem of Spring

April 11, 2018


She admits them
opens no liquor 

Three years they’ve
digging her grave 

Now her thoughts are
thunder and rain 

Their heads are old
snags in her river 

She rises above
and floats free 

She rides her white
waters to the sea


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).



Old Orchard Beach Sky – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

The New Arrival

April 9, 2018


A handkerchief in his pocket
A breath mint in his mouth
Standing like a new rake
beside the garden display 

He might have descended from
a Polish miller or a Roman Caesar
who straddled Gaul with his legions
But he is a pair of J.C. Penney loafers
slacks by K-Mart 

The courthouse has burned down on his past
Good-bye to a somewhere homeland
Good-bye to a great grandmother
who may or may not have had
a mole on her neck like his

The old gray chest in the U-Haul
is only full of jeans
No shards of pottery
No arthritic bones


First published in Hanging Loose.


Restricted Bridge - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Restricted Bridge – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.


Two Approaches to the Lake: A Poem for Early Spring

April 4, 2018


At sunrise
the last snow withdraws its fog
into the fissures
and braces among the rocks 

In the lake below


River falls from sky
and boils in the pool
Brown sinews slip through
rocks and foam 

sunflames shudder
on deep water
A skiff sets out
along the shore


First published in Kennebec.


Mountain Lake in Winter - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Mountain Lake in Winter – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Prayer to the God Who Keeps House in my Shoes

April 1, 2018

Help me to accept myself.  To accept the path I have found to walk.  To accept each fall and rise of that path.  To accept myself and my path as one.

I am not asking for a beautiful and surprising path.  Any true path will be beautiful and surprising.  I am not asking for a great prize at its end.  The prize I seek on my walk is already in the walker.

I do ask for awareness of my steps.  To feel my feet in my shoes meet the ground.  To feel my spirit move with my body.  To feel my body and spirit move with the Spirit of the world.  I ask to have my eyes see, my ears hear, my nose smell, my tongue taste, my skin touch.  Keep me alert to all the people, all the animals, all the plants.  And to all the seemingly lifeless forms of earth, water, and air.

Walk me through the world of my perceptions.  Fit my shoes to a spirit as gentle as a meandering stream.  Give me corns and blisters for my path until my feet become as discerning as the eyes of a crow.

Give me enough pain to respond to my needs.  Give me enough pleasure to tame my desires.  Give me enough compassion to feel the pain of others.  Give me enough kinship to celebrate communal joy.

Keep me walking my path without fear or shame.  With my share of folly but not with great folly.  With my share of seriousness but not with great seriousness.  Keep my body and spirit in balance.  Teach me to plant my steps on the spot of the path now before me, the only place and time where I can think or act.


First published in Brother Michael This Morning.


Mom Was Always Big in the Church - photo by Bernie Smetzer

Mom Was Always Big in the Church – photo by Bernie Smetzer

Family Graves near Clinton, Kansas

March 28, 2018


To have lived a decade here
before I found these names:

        Edith Smetzer
        Daugh. of D. & E. Smetzer
        Died 1886
        Aged 14 days

Her infant bones the earliest in the churchyard.

        John Smetzer
        Died June 18, 1892
        Aged 74 years, 5 months, 15 days

At 61 he had been the oldest of the Ohio Smetzers
to travel west to Kansas
and disappear.

These things I have heard of my great great uncle:

        that he was illiterate,
        that he never married,
        that he was a hired man,
        that he was the only man of his family
                never to own land.

And I understood that he moved westward
        across the land
like a lateral root
hardly disturbing the leaves.

So here you ended, old uncle,
your plot open to the sky,
buried more deeply in your faint depression
        of earth
than ever you plowed.

It is evening.
Light blue still marks the western edge,
but the sky above is growing higher, thinning,
falling back through darker blues
to the blackness behind the stars.

And you, uncle, are still thinning
        in your darkness,
still dissolving into this place I’ve come to.
The twilight dissolves my family name
and leaves me open to a field of stones.

Years from now, my great nephew’s children
        may hear of me:

        that I never married
        that I worked for wages,
        that I never owned land.

And I would like them to understand
that I was an illiterate of the earth,
as transient in my time as John in his,

as transient really as Edith there,
who never knew the soil
before it closed her in.


First published in Kansas Quarterly.



This poem was first published when I was 39 and an aging bachelor. Much has changed since, including my knowledge of John’s life. “Smetzer Graves” would make poor genealogy today. Fortunately it is not a genealogy or a biography, but a poem.

Poets and fiction writers often start out writing about themselves, people close to them, and their feelings. But no matter what grammatical person a poem or story uses, in the end it turns out to be about a much larger “us.”


My great grandfather Michael Smetzer and an unindentified man.

My great grandfather Michael Smetzer and an unindentified man.