Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Circling Back

April 2, 2014

by Mike Smetzer



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 on the porch.
Toadstools rotting by the barn.


Circling back, and back.

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

A patch of wintering rye.
A window watched only in memory.

New dogs growling at the gate.
Loud, strange voices from the barn.


(first published in Off the Coast, Winter 2014)


I very much enjoyed reading the winter issue of Off the Coast literary magazine, which came out in February. It is a very good issue overall. A few of the poems are available at the link above as selected work. Of those not available online, I especially liked

“Normal” by Andy Macera. A poem about the aberrations of the narrator’s family that takes a personal twist at the end.

“The Last Days of the Balkh Bastan” by M. E. Silverman. A striking portrait of an old Jewish man in Kabul who cannot leave the place of a way of life now lost.

“At the Checkpoint in Bethlehem” by Tara Ballard. Tara places the reader with great immediacy in the experience of fear and powerlessness of those passing through the autocratic and hair-triggered guards at the checkpoint. Overtones of the decisions Nazi guards made about those arriving at concentration camps.

“The Grandmothers” by Mary Ann Larkin. A brief but powerful, mythic image of the relationship of grandmothers and children. Very tribal.

“Me and Mick” by Ben Weinberg. The story of two fishermen, of failure, loss, and a comradeship that fell painfully short. I love the way this poem tells just enough and suggests the rest.

Floating Opals

November 14, 2013
by Mike Smetzer 
Little flames play against the old lady’s neck,
turning before the darkness of her dress,
as she waits in line for his viewing.
She fingers the white ghosts,
which rise in a slow timeless tumbling,
swirling past each other in their crystal sphere.
They fade into translucence, to turn
and reappear in fire or dead white stone.
Iridescent bursts of pinks and greens and blues.
A universe sealed in her miniature globe,
an eternity at the base of her withered neck.
(first published in The Innisfree Poetry Journal)


October 24, 2013
Revised poem Copyright © 2013 by Mike Smetzer 
Look down from your mountain air.
Come home again
on eastward blowing winds.
Winter’s high thin cold
has only paled your skin,
not flushed your blood as I would.
Sibyl, you could be a swan and I
a hot spring in winter’s air,
my mouth around your thighs,
my love, a steam against the cold.

(first published in The Innisfree Poetry Journal)

Upside Down

June 1, 2010

This revised poem Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer


Upside down beside the walk,
        a doped 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 dull as lead.
        What can your trouble be?”
But well I knew the drugs they brew
        for modern zoology.
To hang in the air as dull as a bear
        asleep 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)

A Man Who Told the Truth: 5 Poems

May 25, 2010


These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer


A Quiet Man
What I ate for supper turned my urine orange.
If I were a braggart:
      I could startle old men in courthouse johns.
      I could tell weeping women I had given them
      Believers could come to me to bathe and be
But I am a quiet man.
I will piss in pop bottles to leave on the steps
for your children.

(first published in Cottonwood Review’s Open House)


The New Arrival
A green flag 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 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)
My Last Race
I reached the finish before the others,
but my wife was not looking,
my son was in the john.
Suddenly the stretched line
was my only dimension,
and I moved 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 Review)
You Tell Me You Love a Wife Beater
Divorced Three Times
The sabre still rises through the air
in the memory of his third wife
as he chases her from their house
and two blocks down the street.
There he collapsed and you found him,
crying and impotent,
a little boy with a thin wet beard.
So you took him home.
You hung his sabre above the sofa.
You rocked and sang him to sleep.
But he has grown stronger
and he no longer cries and pleads.
He pushes you out of your bed.
Shouts summon you in the night.
One day you return to find
the sabre vanished from the wall.
Out back you see him practice
on the saplings in your yard.
Once a woman who had lost her child
found a baby wolf and brought it home.
She didn’t think of pain
until the teeth began to nurse.
(first published in Kansas Quarterly)
A Man Who Told the Truth
A man who told the truth
wouldn’t say much.
He’d sit all day and watch his life.
Sometimes he’d pick up a stick
and break it.
Maybe he would sit on a log
and watch the oaks
or on a park bench in some quiet town.
He might walk around some city
stepping over cracks.
It wouldn’t really matter.
If he were to tell the truth
what could he say?
That spring leaves are green
and winter leaves are brown?
That children run in circles
while old men walk straight lines?
That cities are full of cracks?
(first published in Wind)

Hungry Love: 6 Poems

May 23, 2010

These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer

Bill Acres Explains His Life
You have to be drunk or happy.
If you‘re not you don’t see those early summer leaves.
You don’t feel that off-white warmth of concrete in the sun.
You don’t see nothing when you’re down.
You just see your own dirty toes.
You don’t see that loose Kansas dirt.
You don’t see those concrete slabs lined out like
          fallen dominoes
all the way to the park.
Hey!  Those black and white bird droppings are
          a clue to life.
They say you look up you’ll see what’s coming down.
But it won’t kill you.
You got to wipe it off and laugh.

(first published in Cottonwood Review

Tequila / Pulque
Agave worm in the bottle,
you’re crema de la worm.
Ebony knob on a divinity stick.
Who could swallow a prettier fellow?
But what have you to do with Tequila?
With wormy agave drained to death
by sweaty men in a desert?
With its juice brewed for pulque,
distilled for bandits to heat themselves
before stopping the bus from the border?
Hey, perfect worm, you look
gringo clean tonight!
Give me a glass of pulque,
where a real worm might be,
mottled and smashed, cut to bits –
a worm of the people.
Pass him round in a bottle
born of broken bottles.
¡Salud! to the approaching lights –
el autobús de las turistas.

(first published in Cottonwood)

Hungry Love
I see you
twice cooked
Your fingers
its skin.
the thin,
to the pile
on the tray,
to kiss
the juices,
its gentle,
My hungry love.

(first published in George & Mertie’s Place)

The Wait
Days draw out like hot glass
without end.
Time waits action
and night birds cry no peace.
I trickle around buildings
wincing before the light,
or, shadow in the night,
I haunt dark streets
beneath the moon-clock sky.
Organic time salamanders
over the earth in me,
while eyes flick out
against dead buildings
and all about
stupid traffic lights blink

(first published in Cottonwood Review)

Animals Hunting
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

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 Review)

Winter in Old Town, Maine: 2 Poems

May 21, 2010

These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer


Sunday Morning, January 1
Outside the drizzle finds oak rags
        solemn on their limbs,
and sets against the radio hymns
        its own rough-measured drops.
The toaster pops its little plume
        that lingers as I drip and stop
the honey spout, sweet almost-lips
        I circle with my finger.

(first published in Mostly Maine)

Spring Comes to Old Town, Maine
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 cackle, 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)

Waiting Among the Dead

May 19, 2010

This revised poem Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer


Every morning dead crawdads are piled by 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.
Lines of ants search the bleached grass.
Allen scratches dead skin off his legs,
and we watch ants carry this 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.  Serve them French.
The summer sun shines all day and on into the night.
I walk the streets and feel the sweat blossom
into mushrooms above the band of my cap.
I don’t shave or bathe, and whatever I drink
tastes of instant coffee.
When I piss it is dark yellow and stains the leaves.
Where I piss daily earth worms gather –
pink and fishy white.
I wear no sandals and won’t wash my feet.
As I lie in bed I can feel small insects moving
between my toes.
Skunks gather at my door to eat crawdads.
In the morning the skunks are dead.
I shovel their corpses into bags.
Allen will not accept my bags.
They are overflowing my alley.
All day I do nothing but wait for rain.
My nose bleeds and my tongue is cloth.
I follow a crow to the graveyard where he calls
from Allen’s stone.
The grass around his grave is rich with green.
At night a crawdad peeks out of his hole,
Allen’s eyes shine like rubies.

(first published in Tellus)

Men in Boxes: 4 Poetic Parables

May 17, 2010
These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer
A Naked Man
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)


 The Wart
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 try to hide it with your hand,
but every time you touch it
        it grows.
So you go to the doctor and he cuts
        it off.
In a week it has grown back,
You wear a band-aid over your nose.
People look at you like a sewer.
Your lover could not stand the band-aid
        and has left town.
The note saying good-bye is written
        to your wart.
No one can remember your name.
You are “the man with the wart,” “the wart man,”
or simply “the wart.”
Pranksters leave fresh lemons on your 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.
It spreads around your eyes.
It has broken up into many scaly lumps.
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 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 are 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 Review)


A Man With Boxes
In an old box a man is writing your name
        with a crayon.
He will put his old shoes in the box
        and close the lid.
At supper your food will taste of sweat
        and leather.
At night you will be afraid of the dark,
and by day you will gasp for air.
You will walk in your sleep
and wake to find yourself in a strange city.
You will remember things someone else forgot,
and your thoughts will come like postcards
        in an unknown tongue.
One hot day a man will stop you.
His smell will be warm and close.
You will melt into his box.
Somewhere outside a man is cashing checks
        in your name.
He wears new shoes.
Under his arms – old boxes. 

(first published in West Branch)


 Reconstructive Criticism
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 shoulder 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)

Black Crows

May 15, 2010

This revised poem Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer

Black crows.  Silent crows.
Me on my path in the morning
startled by a silence of crows.
Crows in a bush in the morning.
Crows by my path in the morning.
Large  Black  Silent
Crows watching me in the morning.
Me watching crows in the morning.
Standing by a bush watching crows
watch me in the morning.
Path  Crows  Bush  Me  Morning

(First published in Kansas Quarterly)