Posts Tagged ‘dead’

Waiting Among the Dead

August 16, 2017

 

Every morning dead crawdads pile up at 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
We watch lines of ants searching the bleached grass
Allen scratches dying skin from his legs
and ants carry it 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
Eat them French

The summer sun shines all day and on into the night
I walk the streets and feel the sweat blossom
like mushrooms above the band of my cap
I haven’t shaved or bathed, and my mouth tastes
like instant coffee
When I piss it is dark yellow and kills the leaves
Where I piss daily earth worms gather
pink and fishy white

I wear no sandals and refuse to wash my feet
As I lie in bed I can feel small insects moving
between my toes
Skunks gather at my door to eat the slugs and crawdads
In the morning they are dead
I shovel their corpses into bags for Allen’s alley

Allen dies eating crawdads in his garden
His wife returns my bags of corpses
They are overflowing my alley
All day I watch for rain
My nose cracks and bleeds
and my tongue is cloth

On Sunday I follow a crow to the graveyard
It calls to me from Allen’s stone
The grass around his grave is rich with green
At dusk a crawdad peeks out of his hole
Allen’s eyes shine up at me like rubies

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

An earlier version of this poem was first published in Tellus.

 

Discussion

This is an August poem from the decade I spent living with and without air conditioning in Kansas. It commemorates the dog days of summer and of my life. If you have never felt this way yourself, I salute you.

I think of it as the feeling Jimi Hendrix must have had when he wrote “I Don’t Live Today.” But with way too much sun instead of no sun coming in through the window.

“Oh, no. Oh, there ain’t no life nowhere.”

 

Detail from "Moon Night" - acrylic painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Moon Night” – acrylic painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Done with Ralph

July 11, 2017

 

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