Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Mr. Richards and Cora

May 26, 2017


A Sunday couple in a front pew.
Mr. Richards sat full face to the sermon,
aware of the girls batting eyelashes
toward his designer collars,
his careful graying hair. He walked
among us, distant and slightly amused.
Cora paled beside him, forgotten,
like some pressed flower,
like a plaque honoring a career goal
he once set and met.

With colleagues at his club,
he tasted the steward’s Beaujolais,
the chef’s steak bordelaise,
its flavor rich from the marinade,
Crème brûlée with his evening coffee.
In the kitchen at home she
crumbled cornbread into beans,
her mother’s scarf tightened
around her forehead
like a truss.

When Cora visited his office,
Mr. Richards asked her to type.
She settled in, like an oyster
growing pearls. She opened
the clogged arteries of his files,
warmed his clerks and his clients
to smiles. Now she is the candle
at his corporate lunch,
its honey glow, the halo
he always wanted for his crown.


Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

Swimmers, painting by Mike Smetzer


May 22, 2017


by Vera Lisa Smetzer


You write the worst part
is not kids shooting off
handguns and Uzis
loud enough, close enough,
to make your neck sweat.
There’s a silence in the alley
when you know someone’s heart
has stopped and you shiver
all night. Once on a full moon
you stole a shovel and dug up
dirt to plant sweet potatoes.
People thought you were burying
a body and came after midnight
lugging metal detectors
to check for jewelry.
Before this city, the only bodies
you knew were bending over
small town pool tables when you
hustled them for money. You loved
how their skin glistened in the bar
room light when they started
to lose. Too bad you say,
you don’t have any. Living in
the city is high maintenance.
Worst part is exhaustion
thrusting its fist in your face.
You stomach the stench
of scrubbing public toilets
at Greyhound bus stations now.
Still you dream of ripe fruit
in summer, tending hives,
planting rows of potatoes
on a farm, anywhere. Some days,
fear runs so fast through
you, it feels like bees
hum in your blood. I check
for a return address, there
isn’t any. You continue
about “small pleasures.”
In one store, you read
pages and partial chapters,
move onto another store,
you’ve mapped routes so you can
finish books. To survive,
you write poems and stories,
letters on toilet paper,
like this one. You hope I
don’t mind, say you’ll
write again. You don’t
sign your name.


Copyright © 2017 by  Alvera Lisa Smetzer



Pure Again

May 21, 2017


When I rose above the clouds,
I was in the sky.
Rain and dark below me,
a million stars around me and above.

Young Moon smiled over the rim of earth,
joy reflected from a hidden sun.
I was moving above the dark,
but my eyes filled with lights.

Stars torched the blackness with colors,
brightest white to deepest red.
Cold and clear was the air
and thin to breathe.

I was self-sufficient and alone,
and pure again,
with space and time to travel,
tiny and dark,
but moving out among the stars.


Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

Kitchenette with Cable

May 17, 2017


All night, mindful and listening,
I kneel before the mute TV’s light,
contemplating the snow between channels,
my lips reciting the mantra of my Frigidaire.
Three states away, you are indexing
ten years of your diaries for my sins,
cropping my image from family albums,
stacking all I left for the Salvation van.

Passing trucks tremble my walls to ecstasy.
Oh look outside!
Illuminated waste bins wake up enlightened,
beneath long-necked halogen lights,
hopeful young Buddhas, shining compassion!
compassion! compassion!
down dreary interstate byways.

I know I failed. I am sorry!
I want to come home!
I know you know I will fail again.
The egoist sage Yang Chu
would not pluck a hair
to save his troubled world.
I offer all my hair to you tonight
in this kitchenette with cable.

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

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)