Posts Tagged ‘poem’


August 20, 2017


When I was twelve I caught a spotted salamander
      in the yard
and took him in a jar to school.
When I appeared with him in science class,
the teacher stood above me at a loss.
“Why did you bring it here?  We’ve all seen
This hadn’t occurred to me.
Because it delighted me to have caught him,
I brought him.


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).



I find one of the best ways to deal with the memory of an embarrassing or painful experience, is to write it into a poem. I have a lot of poems.

Below is a photo of my older sister Rose. As a teenager, Rosalee told my little sister and me that she had arrived on a space ship, which seemed about right to us. However, it appears she actually rode into our parents’ lives on a horse.


Rosalee Smetzer on a horse

Rosalee Smetzer on a horse

Rose and Granddad Smetzer

Rose and Granddad Smetzer

Bernie and Rosalee Smetzer

Dad and Rose

Mike, Rose and Jean Smetzer

Mike, Rose and Jean


Animals Hunting

August 18, 2017


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.


Koi - photo by Mike Smetzer

Koi – photo by Mike Smetzer

That’s All There Is

August 13, 2017


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.


Minimalism in Writing and Art

Minimalism in writing and art focuses on a few key details and gives them a straightforward presentation. Such work is simple, stark and yet resonant, often implying more than is described or shown. Minimalism is rich, but not like a kaleidoscope is rich. It is rich in its simplicity, like the color of a gemstone or the light a single firefly in the night.


Bridge Superstructure - detail from photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Bridge Lines – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Upside Down

August 11, 2017


Upside down beside the walk,
a gray 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 gray as lead.
Who stuck that tag on thee?
Some student crew has a project due
for a class in zoology.”

To hang in the air as dull as a bear
who sleeps 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.


Mikey Feeds a Squirrel, Florida, 1950's - photo probably by Bernie Smetzer

Feeding a Squirrel, Florida, 1950’s


The Letter

August 9, 2017


By a hydrant where a postman
dropped a letter on the ground,
sat a vagrant being vagrant
when the letter fluttered down.

On the battered, buttered vagrant
dropped the letter falling down,
but the vagrant only muttered
and the postman kept his round.

Now a vagrant and a letter
are both vagrant on the ground
by a noble fire hydrant
that the postman steps around,

and the vagrant often mutters
of such matters that astound,
but the letter knowing better
only flutters up and down.


First published in Mostly Maine.



“The Letter” comes with a deep “Puss in Boots” bow and sweep of the hat to all the great children’s poetry and prose that we have inherited. They say many older children’s poems had hidden meaning, now largely forgotten. “The Letter” jump starts the process by starting out life with no hidden meaning whatsoever. It is simply meant to be listened to and enjoyed.

Below is a word design or concrete poem that is not meant to be listened to at all, but is meant to be seen and enjoyed. Just as “The Letter” is a bit of nonsense poetry, “oNo” is a bit of nonsense word art. Creative nonsense is essential to my happiness. Of course, some may prefer science, mathematics or diplomacy. From what I can figure out from quantum physics and the Trump administration, it all comes together in the end.


"oNo" - a word design by Mike Smetzer

“oNo” – a word design. Offered here as a emblem for the year 2017.


First published in Phoebus.


A Kansas Anthem

August 6, 2017


The wind and dust blew up the hill,
        the dust from the wind fell down.
And I awoke on the windless side
        all clothed in a fine dust gown.

“Oh see,” said I to a passerby,
        “my suit of Kansas Gray.
Come feel the loft of the down so soft
        our sky has thrown away.”

“I swear,” swore he, “by a cottonwood tree
        run through with a fencing foil,
your Kansas dust smells sharp as rust
        and feels like tractor oil.

“I’ve been to Maine and I’ve been to Spain
        and filled my sight with riches,
but my eyes are filled in Kansas land
        by dirt blown out of ditches.”

Oh hey hum hey for a Kansas day
        when the sky is gray and swirly.
Oh naw de naw for the gritty jaw
        that turns bright strangers surly.


First published in Midwest Quarterly.



I wrote this poem after a small dust storm blew through Lawrence, Kansas. In eastern Kansas it was a rare event and also a wonderful reminder of the nature of the land where we lived.

After centuries of use, the ballad stanza remains a wonderful asset for the poet, especially when the poem has an element of humor. Meter and rhyme are natural choices for those who want to dance with language and life. They contain a magic formula for joy more powerful than any happy pill.

While meter and rhyme work less well in serious poetry today, poetic rhythms (as opposed to meter) and subtle rhymes can create beauty and enhance significance, even for readers accustomed to prose.

But as they sing in the theater, “Tragedy tomorrow, Comedy tonight!”


Bernie Smetzer and the chickens

Dad with his Chickens


Bernie Smetzer and the chickens 2

Dad and the chickens

Bernie Smetzer reins in the chicken

Dad reins in the chicken

The Wait

August 2, 2017


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 (formerly Cottonwood Review).


A Man with Boxes

July 28, 2017


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.



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


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


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).



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.