A Man with Boxes

July 28, 2017 by

 

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 with a box will stop you
His smell will be warm and close
You will melt like a crayon into his box

Somewhere outside the man is cashing checks
        in your name
He wears new shoes
Under his arms        old boxes

 

First published in West Branch.

 

Discussion

This poem is written in the second person. I don’t use second person much because some people find it presumptuous. But I believe it works in cautionary poems like this one, and the wonderful poem “Oh No” by Robert Creeley, which begins:

If you wander far enough
you will come to it
and when you get there
they will give you a place to sit

for yourself only, in a nice chair

“A Man with Boxes” also employs magic as a vehicle for its development. But it isn’t about magic. I think the poem is about identity and freedom, and about the potential for losing both. It is also about people who take prisoners.

 

"Old Shoes 1" - photo by Mike Smetzer

“Old Shoes 1” – photo by Mike Smetzer

 

"Old Shoes 2" - photo by Mike Smetzer

“Old Shoes 2” – photo by Mike Smetzer

Before Sunset

July 26, 2017 by

 

I walk down to your spot by the stream,
toss chunks of mud into the current.

Twigs and insects, leaves and soil
swirl away down the shallow creek.

The oaks creak slowly above
as sunlight fades from the grasses.

On the opposite bank small eyes rise
like buried hopes from the shadows.

 

First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).

 

"Stream through an Autumn Woods," photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

“Stream through an Autumn Woods,” photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

 

A Long Street

July 23, 2017 by

 

When I am walking at night and my shadow stops,
it is too late to turn back.
I scuff my shoes on the concrete.

Around the water tower nighthawks are dipping for moths.
I gaze at the lights
and there is nowhere to go.

I sit on the curb and stare down the street.
It is a long street of houses and yards and parked cars.
There is nowhere it will take me.

My shadow lies on the concrete like paint.
It has stuck to my shoes
and I can’t kick free.

Across the street a dog barks through a fence.
No one comes to the door.
He sniffs and wags his tail.

In my pockets, I have four dimes and a set of keys,
but there is nothing to buy
and no door my keys will open.

 

First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).

 

Discussion

I seem to have spent a lot of my life walking, especially at night. I grew up on the 20-acre remains of an old farm in northern Indiana. Since I had both an older and younger sister, it often seemed a good idea to escape for a walk around our property. But I wasn’t limited to our twenty acres. We lived in an over-sized section. One mile by one and a quarter miles. The road had been shifted over to avoid going up the middle of a long wetlands. There were a few houses along the outside, but the whole middle was woods, pasture, small marshes, and ponds. If I was in serious enough trouble with my sisters, I could wander for hours.

When I went to college, I walked everywhere I needed to go. At that time, most college students didn’t have cars. When I had trouble at school, with my classes or with my personal life, I walked around at night, especially when the fog came up from the river. It seemed symbolic. I went out walking almost every night my freshman year. Sometimes I woke my roommate up when I came in at dawn. When I felt lost, it was better to go walking than to sit like a lump in my room.

Walking is still one way I find myself and cope with life. For the last ten years, I have had to walk most of the day five days a week for my job at the store. And even there, among all the pages and shoppers, it has been a way to find myself. I have been finding myself by walking, ever since, as a preschooler, I ran away from our house to find solace walking along the edge of our marsh.

I find who I am inside by walking. It helps me become aware of where I am in my life. But as far as where all this walking is taking me, of which way I should go, well, I still have not a clue.

The Bernie & Viola Smetzer homestead in 1956.

My childhood home, taken for an aireal canvas of county homesteads in 1956.

Report to the Air

July 21, 2017 by

for Thea

 

There was your yard and your old house
and your two dogs.
And I was sitting on the rusty tub
we moved in from the farm.
There was your father with no fingers,
your mother opening beer.
And we all sat outside in Kansas
without you.

Today a neighbor brought a pie.
Someone you knew came to adopt your cat.

 

First published in Hanging Loose.

 

Sky above Land's End, Maine - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

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