Posts Tagged ‘indiana’

Rattlesnakes Are Scary but Fair

June 8, 2017


A soft-spoken older guy stopped me in the store and I thought asked me if we had potty. I figured he had been watching his grandkids a lot lately. So I pointed him toward the restrooms in the front corner of the store. “No,” he says, “P-a-t-e.” Oh. Pâté. I hadn’t thought about pâté in years.

When I was a kid in Indiana, my family liked to eat at a place called Strongbow Turkey Inn. No question about freshness. They had the turkeys wandering around in a fenced yard right behind the restaurant. It was a great place for a full turkey dinner. One of the things they served with that dinner was a pâté made from turkey liver. I liked it.

Years later when I was living in Kansas, I worked with a woman I’ll call Betsy Parker. Betsy had moved up to Kansas from Arkansas. She was a settled, inconspicuous woman. Our co-workers hardly noticed her. Her one claim to fame was that she was a third cousin to Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde. She said the older members of her family still talked about meeting Bonnie and Clyde. Said they were a pair of hissing rattlers you knew you had to walk around. Nothing like quiet Betsy.

Betsy had a girlfriend from Boston that liked to make fun of Betsy and her family for eating squirrels. Wow, I can still remember the aroma of my mama’s browned and baked squirrels. Good eating. Well, Betsy invited her friend’s family over one time for a beef pot roast dinner. And for an appetizer she served them pâté. She said they thought it was great. It wasn’t until later she told them she made the pâté out of squirrel brains.

Worth remembering. Copperheads don’t rattle before they strike.

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

You want a garden here? - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

You want a Garden here? – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Working the Tar House

May 11, 2010

This revised poem Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer


All day you sit with the pumps
and smell the tar, hot tar
on its way to the steel mill boilers.

Some days they burn gas.
Then if it’s warm you leave
a single pump idling
and sit outside in the shade
of the two-story tar tank.

You set your hard hat on the concrete
and watch smoke trail from the stacks
or stare at the blast furnace lights.

In winter you stay inside.
Tar leaks over everything.
It runs out hot and fluid,
then hardens to asphalt.

Tar on your hands,
tar on your blue-gray clothes,
bits of tar in your ham sandwiches.
Tar and layers of tar
on the pipes and pumps and floor.

Conversation is a call
to add or take off a pump.
Even with four pumps on,
there is little to do.

Each day, for each active pump,
you change the metal filter
that strains out the hard chunks.
First you hammer the valve lever
to divert the flow.

Then you unscrew the nuts
that hold down the filter lid.
You slide a pipe under the handle
and pry up the twenty-pound lid
till you break the tar’s seal.

When the seal breaks, the lid flies up,
snags on the bolts, and falls back down
with a clap and a spray of hot tar.

You raise the lid and set it off.
With a hook you lift out
the steel filter, dripping tar,
and carry it in a bucket
to a bubbling bath of solvent and steam.

You put in a clean filter
and bolt down the lid,
tightly, so the pressure won’t spray tar.

Your buddy has left five-gallon buckets
to fill up under leaks.
Slopping tar on your pants,
you haul them out to the chest-high hopper.

Or nights you dump them
in the waste pool of water and sludge,
the safety pit under the tar tank.

For hours you sit on a bucket
and watch the pressure gauge on the line.
You breathe the vapors and
you sweat among the pipes.

After work you go home with a smell
you can’t wash away.
It clings to you through all your days off.

Some nights you stop along the road
and vomit from the vapors that condense
as a black goo on the hairs of your nose.

Your skin itches where the tar
has soaked your clothes
and stained you black.

(first published in New Letters)

My Clay: 7 Poems of Indiana and Kansas

April 27, 2010
These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer
Ghost Man of the Road
At dusk, the 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 sing.
Then sometimes again in Indian summer.
I used to hear his steps on our road.
Ghost man of evening.  Old man of ragged clothing.
I visioned him walking into the dark, never stopping,
but glancing sometimes at my window, wondering
what small child lived there.
(first published in Kansas Quarterly)
End of Winter
Sloshing through marsh at the end
        of winter
in hip boots
with snow still stuck to the willows.
Sky above is featureless gray
and oak-covered hills are
        black-gray lines
with brown tatters.
To the south an angry farmer calls
        his son.
To the north water trickles through
dead grass.
Legs and face are numb and still.
Only the heart is whispering
(first published in Cottonwood Review)
The Old Farmer
He was lying like a twig in the hay,
the old farmer.
Dad and I raised him, each on a side,
and carried him to his kitchen door.
There, at the top of the steps, we danced
trying to enter the narrow passage.
His legs going separate ways
waved apart before us.
The speechless anger in his eyes
was all that age had left
of the dignity of living on his land.
(first published in Cottonwood)
When I arrive is always years from now,
at the edge of my father’s marsh,
and the hole is half filled with water
and choked with grass
where at five
I watched him dig lilies for our yard.
I step barefoot into fetid water,
worm the ooze around my feet,
scoop black decay with my toes,
working through sediment
to yellow clay.
Returning night and night,
kneading my feet in that clay.
(first published in Tellus)
The Milk House
The stones are crawling from their mortar
to settle like old farmers in the clay.
Their fields have sprouted puffball houses;
red flags ripen in the orchard.
(first published in Tellus)
Prairie Summer
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)
That’s All There Is
A row of fence posts
down the road.
You don’t see the man
who dug the holes
and planted the posts
and stretched the wire.
You don’t see him.
You just see posts going by
and the wire
and off in the distance
the sky.
(first published in West Branch)