Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

Judgment Comes: A New Free Kindle Book

December 16, 2018

JUDGMENT COMES: Poetry from Many Lives with Original Beadwork is now available on Kindle. This is a book of serious poetry about people living their lives, and sometimes where those lives have led them. Like the books I published earlier this year, this new book is listed at Kindle’s minimum price of 99¢. If anyone is interested, all five books are available free, Sunday & Monday, December 16 & 17.

JUDGMENT COMES consists of twenty-four poems supported by photographs of seven bead “paintings” that were created on a loom and framed using wooden hoops wrapped in leather. Some of the poems are recent. Others were published in earlier versions in Cottonwood, Chants, Hanging Loose, Kansas Quarterly, Mostly Maine, New Letters, Poetry Now, West Branch, and Wind.

You do not need a Kindle device. The book can be read on a PC, Mac or phone. This book can be reached by clicking on the image below or with my earlier books on

my Author Page:


Judgment Comes cover



I Dream My Mother Enrolls in Freshman Lit.

September 14, 2018


“Why,” I ask, “did Cather superimpose
a plow on the face of the sun?” 

But the sullen guy I call on won’t talk
and you   Mother   you sit next to him
in the front row

“No doubt she had her reasons” you reply 

“Could the plow symbolize
domestication of the prairie?
Could the sun represent life?”

“Oh, I doubt that, Dear
Now take your words outside”


(first published in Taurus)


The Teacher and His Mom. Photo by Bernie Smetzer.

The Teacher and His Mom. Photo by Bernie Smetzer.

You Say You Love a Wife Beater Divorced Three Times

August 20, 2018


The saber 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 saber as a decoration
above your sofa.
Each night 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 saber vanished from the wall.
Out back you watch 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.


Strangler Vine in Onset, MA. Family Photo from Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Strangler Vine in Onset, MA. Family Photo from Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Little Booper Grows Up

July 20, 2018



Little Booper was mostly a big boy now. After many relapses, he was finally potty trained, mostly. He went to kindergarten and could stay there all day, most days, without trying to run home. And he could spread his own peanut butter and jelly, mostly on the bread.

“Charlie,” Stephanie said, “Our Little Booper has stopped being a baby.”

“Finally!” Charlie replied. Charlie looked over thoughtfully at Little Booper, his face and hands smeared golden brown and grape.

Before Little Booper was born, Stephanie had worked at the circulation desk of the local library. Once she had Little Booper, she needed work she could do at home. So she began making cloth dolls to sell on the Internet. When one of her doll ideas went wrong or a doll wouldn’t sell, she would give it to Little Booper.

Little Booper lined his dolls up in opposing camps at either end of the sofa and gave them old wooden spoons to serve as guns. The dolls with the biggest and darkest eyes were the leaders. To begin with the two armies would shoot at each other from a distance. Then one of the leaders stood up and cried “Charge!” The two armies came together in hand-to-hand combat, grappling with each other and trying to bayonet each other with the handles of their spoons. Many fell struggling together on the floor until they collapsed in death or exhaustion. But the next morning, all rose to fight again.

Little Booper’s dad worked all day prepping used cars at a Ford dealership. Then Dad had a second job in the evening stocking for the Stop & Shop grocery. Between the two jobs, Charlie would hurry home for supper. When he left for his second job, he would look over at Little Booper playing with his dolls and spoons. He saw the dolls all paired up, embracing, and carrying spoons. At first it looked like a dance party at a cooking class. Then he looked closely at the dolls twisted up together on the floor and poking each other with spoons. Charlie’s eyebrows crinkled. He looked over at Stephanie, reading in her chair, and cleared his throat. He tried to say something but couldn’t form any words. So he went off to work at the Stop & Shop.

For a while Little Booper loved to position soldier dolls all over his Big Wheel with their spoons aiming ahead. He would push the Big Wheel to the turn of the wheelchair ramp where it went from the family’s porch straight down into the driveway in front of their duplex. And he would fix the wheel to point straight ahead. After he had set the other dolls up on the driveway, he would push the Big Wheel. The army leader would cry “Charge!” and the soldiers would all ride down to attack the dolls below.

Then one windy day, while Little Booper was setting up the target dolls, he heard the leader cry “Charge!” Little Booper froze with surprise. Before he could recover, the Big Wheel army came charging down the ramp behind him. The Big Wheel hit him hard. Little Booper felt the leader’s wooden spoon poke painfully into his butt. When Little Booper’s dad got home from the dealership, Mom told Dad the funny story of one of Little Booper’s dolls poking him in the butt. Dad’s lips moved and some strange muffled noises came out.

“Don’t worry,” Mom reassured Dad. “Little Booper wasn’t really hurt. It’s nothing he needs to see the doctor about.” Dad didn’t eat much supper, and then he went to work.

After the Big Wheel attacked him, Little Booper was afraid to go near it. He disarmed all his doll soldiers and locked all their wooden spoons in a toy box. He still loved to line up his dolls for inspection, but Little Booper had experienced the grim reality of war. It changed him to discover that the toys surrounding him could be hostile toward him, and he never again felt comfortable in his world.

The next day Little Booper’s dad decided to enroll him in tee-ball. Little Booper went a few times. He liked hitting at the ball, even though he usually missed. But he panicked when the ball was batted at him. The ball would grow larger and larger as it approached and he could see a face forming out of the seams of the ball. And then he recognized the large eyes of an army leader watching him. Little Booper ran away screaming. It was too much like the charge of the Big Wheel.

About the time Little Booper started T-ball, he also started to worry about his nightly bath. At one time Little Booper had liked his bath. Then he slipped in the tub, fell on his butt and pooped the water. Little Booper’s mom was not happy. “Booper! You’re a big boy. Aren’t you potty trained yet!” Her big, dark eyes grew narrow and intent.

Little Booper started to be afraid of his bath. As soon as his mom left him alone, he would panic about what might happen, jump out of the tub, splashing water over the side, and run dripping through the duplex to hide in his closet.

Little Booper’s mom bought him a big rubber ducky to protect him and help keep him in the tub. “Ducky will stay with you, Little Booper, and watch you.” Little Booper looked up and saw his mother’s dark eyes watching at him. Then he looked down and saw Ducky’s large dark eyes intent upon him. “Now, Ducky, you watch Little Booper and be sure he doesn’t leave the tub.” And the toy did help. Little Booper stayed longer in the tub and played cautiously with his ducky.

Ducky was a passive toy while the water was still. It just floated on the surface. But when the water moved, Ducky’s long, hard rubber bill would open and close. And if you squeezed Ducky, he would also quack.

After Little Booper quit T-ball, he relaxed and asked Mom to help him make judo outfits for his dolls so they could train in the martial arts. Dad came home and saw Little Booper dressing his dolls in pajamas and setting them up to face each other in pairs. When Little Booper looked up, he saw his dad’s eyes wide open, watching him. That was when Dad decided to enroll Little Booper in soccer.

Preschool soccer was better than tee-ball. The movements of the ball were terrifyingly unpredictable and when it came at him a huge intent face began to appear. But Little Booper could run behind the herd to avoid getting kicked or hit with the ball. If he let someone else get the ball, he was pretty safe.

Then one day in the bath Little Booper’s soap slipped out of his hands and fell onto the floor. When he stood up to get it, he heard Ducky quack behind him. Odd, since Ducky hadn’t been squeezed. Little Booper had to step half out of the tub to reach the soap and when he stepped back in, he felt Ducky’s bill close hard on his bottom.

After the soap incident, Little Booper no longer smiled when mom placed Ducky in his bath water and went back to her work. And Ducky no longer floated aimlessly around the tub. Ducky stayed between Little Booper and the open side, facing Little Booper, with his bill opening and closing, watching. If Little Booper even moved a leg, Ducky would quack.

Little Booper tried “I’m not dirty tonight, Mommy,” and then he tried hiding at bath time. But Mom would fetch Little Booper’s “beloved” Ducky and squeeze it for him until its quacks drove him into the tub.

As Little Booper sat in the tub with Ducky, his fear grew, and his panic, until he would bolt for the edge. Ducky always caught him, biting hard on his legs, arms or bottoms. From the time Little Booper woke up, he dreaded the inevitably approaching bath hour. He replayed its horrors in his dreams.

Little Booper stayed longer in his bath, which meant his mom could work. So Mom loved Rubber Ducky and made great displays of affection toward it. She noticed Little Booper’s bruises and cautioned him not to play so rough at soccer, but she never noticed how hard and sharp the edges of Ducky’s bill were.

One day Mom decided to clean out some old duffel bags dad had in the garage and find out if Dad still wanted that junk. He had never opened the bags since they were married.

When Dad came home for supper, Mom and Little Booper were waiting with the opened bags.

“Oh well,” said Dad, “I don’t need most of this stuff.” But his eyes lit up when he looked into one bag. “Wow!” he said, “It’s my old gigging rig!”

The rig consisted of three three-foot lengths of aluminum pole, one of which had three barbed steel prongs. The three pieces of pole screwed together and the back piece had a strap. There was also a miner’s headlamp.

“I would go out at night and wade into a stream with the headlamp on. I would move slowly until I got close enough to a bullfrog or succor and then I’d spear him quick as I could! It’s not as easy as you think. The water refracts the light so the fish or frog under water isn’t really where you see him.”

“You’d spear a frog?”

“Yes, Stephanie! . . . You know what? When we finally make that trip down home, Aunt Loretta can teach you to cook frog legs!”

Mom looked oddly at Dad.

“It will be great for Little Booper,” Dad reassured her. “When he’s a little older, the two of us can go gigging together at night.”

“Charlie! Little Booper’s afraid of water. And he could get swept downstream!”

“I’ll be there, Steph. And he won’t have to wade. I’ll borrow a jon boat with lights. We’ll gig in comfort. It will be a great experience for Little Booper.”

After Dad left for his night job, Little Booper followed Mom out to the garage and watched her hide Dad’s gigging gear out of sight.

That night’s bath was the worst yet. When Little Booper finally panicked and jumped from the tub, he slipped and fell back in. Ducky got between his legs and grabbed his boyhood for an extra hard bite. Little Booper was too shocked to scream but he saw stars, a clear night’s sky of them.

The next day while Mom was working, Little Booper went out to the garage and dug out the pronged section of the gigging spear. He hid it behind the towel shelving in the bathroom.

That night Little Booper went without protest to his bath. And he sat perfectly still while Ducky watched him suspiciously. Little Booper felt unnaturally calm. Then at just the right moment, he bolted from the bath and grabbed the gigging spear from behind the shelving. He turned to see Ducky’s large eyes coming over the side of the tub after him.

Little Booper gave a war cry that froze his mother at her sewing machine. Then he stabbed Ducky back into the tub. Again and again he stabbed the quacking monster until all three prongs went through the plastic tub and nailed Ducky to the bottom. Bubbles came up from the impaled creature and Little Booper saw the water around Ducky briefly turn a deep red. Then it was clear. And Ducky was no more than a ruined toy.

At first Little Booper’s mom was hysterical. This was much worse than Little Booper pooping in the bath. But for Little Booper it was a glory. He knew that slaying Ducky had taken all the courage he had. And he knew that in some way he had become a man.

By the time Charlie came home, it had all become Dad’s fault, Dad with his stories about gigging fish and frogs.

They had to replace the tub. And Little Booper was banned from access to any sharp objects, ever. They even put a lock on the knife drawer.

Oddly, Little Booper was happy. He went back to playing with his dolls but he also tried actually playing soccer. For the first time he took the ball, and by the end of the next game he scored his first goal. But the memory of Ducky still frightened him during his nightly baths. He again started running for his closet.

Then one night, a couple weeks after the gigging, Dad came home from his second job with a surprise. Booper was already sleeping peacefully in bed.

“You know, Steph, Little Booper has been really good during the last two weeks.”

“Except for his baths.”

“Exactly. So I have bought him another bath toy to replace the duck.”

Stephanie looked expectantly at Charlie.

Charlie’s eyes lit up with delight. “Just look at this!”  

He ran water in the sink and lifted a large floating dragon out of the bag. It had battery-powered eyes that flashed red when it was set in the water and toothed jaws that opened and closed when the water moved.

“And listen to its roar!”

“Oh, thank you, Charlie!” said Mom, her big dark eyes drinking in the new toy. “This dragon is perfect!  Little Booper will never jump out of his bath again.”


Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer


Dad and Dorky Mike go fishing. Smetzer family photo.

Dad and Dorky Mike go fishing. Smetzer family photo.

The Oak and the Sassafras

July 9, 2018


The girl pronounced him an oak
in autumn, herself a mitten tree,
supple under his strong limbs.
Her orange hair growing up
into his iron gray.

Now fire burns in his snow;
dead limbs creak on her crown.


First published in Mostly Maine.


Autumn in Pennsylvania. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Autumn in Pennsylvania. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

The Best Friend You Can Find

June 18, 2018


Some years ago, in central Maine, a selectman and his wife lived at a little homestead called Duck Pond Farm, right along the eastern edge of Kanokolus Bog. The couple had one child, a pretty little eight-year-old daughter named Cindy. Pretty Cindy, with her mother’s guidance, kept two small flocks of tame ducks on the family’s farm.

Then, when Cindy turned nine, the selectman bought her an attractive pair of Saxony ducks and built her a new enclosure for them next to her mallards and Pekins. In the late spring Cindy and her mother let the new Saxony hen go broody to begin their new flock. Early every morning, Cindy came down to the enclosures to collect the mallard and Pekin eggs to sell. She would always check on the Saxony hen and count the eggs in the mother duck’s nest. Each day revealed another egg, but Cindy felt the laying was taking forever. Finally Cindy brought her mother down with her.

“Make that stupid duck sit on her eggs! I want the Saxony ducklings to hatch out NOW!”

“Cindy,” her mother said, “you must be patient! Mother duck will not start to brood until she lays a couple more eggs, and then she will have to incubate them for almost a month.”

“No! I want Saxony ducklings to show my friends now! Why can’t we put her eggs in an incubator like we did the Pekins’?”

“I’m sorry, Cindy. This duck was always a good mother before she came to us. She deserves to keep her ducklings. You will just have to wait.”

Cindy was not about to wait. She went out the gate and marched along the edge of the bog. There she found a nest with one large blue-green egg. “This will do very well,” she said with glee and she ran off with it in her pocket. “I’ll get another one like this.”

Sadly, she could not find any more nests with eggs. Then she spied a nest in the weeds just above the water. Grumbling she waded out and found one small pale brown egg. “Is this all I get!?” She grabbed the little egg in disgust and knocked the nest down into the water with a stick.

Pretty Cindy brought the two eggs back to the tame duck’s nest and tucked them in with the others. She scowled at how they looked among the uniform white eggs. “Wrong colors! Wrong sizes! But the stupid duck won’t notice.”

Mother duck did a lot of quacking, but after she laid her next egg, she sat down to brood. When the ducklings hatched, two of them were different. One was big with gray down. It later developed mottled gray-brown and white feathers. The other was small and drab to begin with. It later grew weird long legs and brown and buff feathers.

This second duckling caused the entire duck family great frustration. While the big one was ugly, it did waddle out with the other ducklings to swim in the pond. The little one was helpless and had to be fed slugs, snails, and insects for weeks in the nest. Then when it left the nest, it had little interest in grubbing through the grass. It could swim, but it did not swim gracefully, no matter how much preen oil mother duck applied. And it retreated to the cattails after a couple minutes. It was small like a mallard but it would not upend like a mallard to grab food below the surface. It preferred to wade around in the cattails and stand still in the shallows waiting for its food to swim by. Lazy, stupid, ugly duckling!

Cindy screamed with exasperation the moment she saw the ugly ducklings in the nest. “I can’t show YOU to my friends!” She shooed them away from the food she put out for the other ducks and threatened to feed them to the barn cat that eyed the ducklings from outside the pond fence. Before Cindy’s friends came to visit, she shut the ugly ducklings in an old outhouse. The normal ducklings soon learned to watch the ugly ducklings coldly, and they would not nest with them, but at least the ugly ducklings had each other. And mother duck foraged up enough food to keep them alive until they could feed themselves.

The little ugly duckling blamed himself for being so backward and making life harder for his big nest mate. It is very sad, he thought, but I can endure Cindy’s cruelty and the other ducklings’ contempt, and I will learn from it because I have a friend. I have already learned the comfort of love.

Then the day came when three of Cindy’s girlfriends arrived unexpectedly and went down to see the Saxony ducklings. They laughed uncontrollably at the ugly ducklings and called Cindy “Ugly Ducks’ Mama.” Cindy turned red with rage, and after her friends left she opened the back gate and threw stones at the ugly ducklings to drive them away from the pond. “If you come back, I’ll mix you into the slop for the pigs!”

The ugly ducklings had never been outside Duck Pond Farm. They felt fear but also excitement as they set off to explore the pools in the bog. Big Duckling swam and Little Duckling waded along beside her. They missed mother duck but they still had each other.

“We will learn together how to survive in this big world,” said little duckling. “Maybe someday we will be as wise as the owl.”

The third pool they visited was home to a flock of wild mallards. The ugly ducklings rushed over to greet them.

“Can we join your flock?”

The mallards tightened their circle and snapped at them when they tried to come inside. But if they stayed along the edges of the flock, they were simply ignored.

“They don’t want us!” said Big Duckling.

“No,” said Little Duckling, “but we can learn how to survive in the wild by watching them, and staying next to them will give us some protection. And we still have each other’s love.”

And so they spent the summer and early autumn with the mallard flock as neighbors, and they learned many shrewd lessons about living in the bog. But one morning when the nights had turned cold, the mallard flock flew off into the sky and that evening they did not return.

Once ice covered the water, the ugly ducklings could not survive at the pool. They did not dare go back to Duck Pond Farm. They had no one to teach them to migrate. So they set off flying awkwardly in circles around the bog searching for some place they could winter.

That was how they came to fly in over the fence and land in Lester Ludington’s turkey yard. The ugly ducklings walked into a turkey house and tried to blend in. There was plenty to eat. And they would hide in a dark corner when Mr. Ludington came around. The inmates mostly just walked around befuddled and hardly seemed to notice.

After a few days, one of the turkeys started to watch them. Then he led over a small group of turkeys to examine them.

“What are you two?” asked Tom Turkey.

“We’re abandoned ducklings from Duck Pond Farm.”

“Oh, so you’re ducks,” nodded Tom. “You don’t look like ducks.”

“If they quack like a duck,” noted one of the hens, “they must be ducks.”

“But they don’t quack,” said Tom.

“Well, the big one eats grain like a duck,” said another hen. “And it has webbed feet.”

“But the other don’t,” said Tom. “And it eats roaches and beetles and worms, but it leaves the grain.”

“Yesterday,” said a third hen, “I saw it swallow a mouse.”

“Let’s chuck ‘em both out in the snow!” said Tom.

“No,” said the second hen, “let ‘em be. We have plenty of room since Thanksgiving. And I want to see how they turn out. The big one could be a genetically modified goose.”

“And the little one?” asked Tom.

“A genetically modified chicken.”

“Could be,” said the first hen.

“Boy,” said Tom, “that experiment sure went sour!”

And the turkeys all went back to walking around befuddled.

“Well,” said Little Duckling, “we have the shelter of a house and plenty to eat. We can survive. This is an important lesson on making do.”

“Can’t say much for the company,” said Big Duckling.

“But at least we have each other’s love,” said Little Duckling.

And so the ugly ducklings survived the winter hiding among the turkeys and growing bigger and more knowledgeable about the world. With spring the ice melted on the bog and the two ugly ducklings flew out of the turkey farm and returned to the bog. Spring is a happy time when insects and little fishes and crayfish and frogs come back out into the world, and the tender sprouts come up, and there is plenty to eat. And with the spring the wild mallards returned to the pool.

But things were not as they had been last fall for Big Duckling. This year when Big Duckling approached the flock, they did not try to bite but instead fled from her presence, watching her with fear. When they found she was not attacking, they formed a retinue around her. Big Duckling looked down at her image in the water and cried out, “Oh! I am big and beautiful! I am not a duckling at all. I am a white swan!”

A white swan! thought Little Duckling. My nest mate changed so slowly in front of me that I never saw it. This is a wonderful lesson for us!

Little Duckling was filled with joy at Big Duckling’s good fortune. “You have learned who you are!” he cried. But when he waded towards her, the mallards snapped at him with their bills. Little Duckling retreated, hiding among the cattails along the bank, but Swan never noticed.

That night, for the first night since he had hatched, Little Duckling slept alone. In truth, Little Duckling slept very little that night. The next morning, when Swan and the mallards left the shore, Little Duckling waded over and called out to Swan. What came out was not his usual ugly duckling call but a loud booming cry he had never made before. In desperation he called again, repeating the deep pumping booms. All the mallards stopped, looking at him. “He’s a bittern!” shouted all the mallards.

“A bittern?” asked Little Duckling.

“A squat, drab, dumpy loud-mouthed little wading bird. A bittern!”

“A Thunder Pumper!” laughed one mallard.

“A Stake Driver!” mocked another.

“A Water Belcher!” shouted a third.

“I’m your nest mate,” cried Little Duckling to Swan. Speechless, Swan turned away and swam into the deepest part of the pool. The ducks followed her, but Bittern was afraid to swim into deep and open water.

After another night alone, Bittern walked over to Swan before she and her retinue had entered the water.

“Remember me? We hatched together. We lived with the turkeys together.”

The mallards looked at Swan with surprise.

“I don’t live with turkeys,” she hissed. “I am a swan. And swans don’t nest with bitterns.” Then she grabbed a bill full of Bittern’s feathers and the mallards joined in the attack. Only Bittern’s long legs saved him from being plucked bare.

Bruised and alone, Bittern hid in the weeds and built a nest in the cattails where he could watch Swan and her mallards swim by. “This is harder than being driven out of Duck Pond Farm,” Bittern reflected. “Cindy always hated me, but I thought Swan loved me. It is a bitter lesson on trusting love.” During the dark nights, a coldness entered Bittern’s soul, a coldness he could only partly expel with his pumping calls in the morning.

Desperately alone, Bittern walked away from the pond one morning on his stick-like legs. Deep in the woods above the bog he met a black bear. Bear had pushed down a bee tree and gorged himself on honey.

“Come have some honey,” Bear offered. “There is still plenty left.”

“Thank you, friend,” said Bittern, approaching warily. “Are you sure you are quite full?”

“Can’t eat another bite,” said Bear.

Bittern delighted in the feast of honey and bees. “Good night, feast mate,” Bittern said as they parted company.

The next day Bittern again met Bear in the woods. Bear had just grubbed up a rotten stump and filled himself with sowbugs and worms.

“Come, Bittern,” said Bear. “Come join me in these excellent grubs.”

“Are you sure you have had enough?”

“Quite full,” said Bear.

They both relaxed, full and lazy from their feast.

“Look, Bittern, my feast mate, why don’t you come join me for dinner tomorrow? I can bring hundreds of fish home to my den.”

“How can you catch so many fish?”

“Easy,” said Bear, “dead grass over a collapsing fence has formed a natural weir across Bacon Brook. The water level in the brook is falling from the lack of rain. So the fish are trapped behind the weir.”

“Of course I will come,” said Bittern, but looking about at the sky he became quiet and thoughtful. As he left, Bittern asked, “May I bring a friend?”

“Sure!” said Bear.

At the pool, Bittern met the beautiful Swan coming to shore for the night. He told her of the wonderful feasts Bear had shared. “Come with me tomorrow and share in our feast of fish.”

“Fresh fish! I will come,” said Swan, “but don’t come get me. I’ll slip away and join you in the woods. If this feast is as good as you say, Bittern, you may wade along behind me, at a distance, and join the mallards in enjoying my beauty.”

That night it rained.

When Bittern and Swan arrived at Bear’s den, Bear was in an ugly mood. The rain had raised the water level in the creek and freed most of the fish from the weir. He was hungry but had only found six minnows for their dinner. Looking up Bear saw the beautiful Swan standing next to the drab Bittern. “Delicious!” Bear cried, and he grabbed Swan and devoured her, feathers and all. Fully fed his mood softened.

“Ummmph,” said Bear, blowing out some feathers. “Now I am full. Come Bittern, why don’t you eat these minnows?”

“Are you sure you can’t eat more?”

“No more today. Ummmph.”

“Thank you, Bear,” said Bittern. And as Bittern finished the minnows, he reflected, “This dinner is small but it has been the most satisfying I have ever had. I have learned now the comfort of revenge.”

As they parted company for the day, Bear again invited Bittern to dinner. “I know a clearing in the woods full of tame raspberry bushes that escaped from Duck Pond Farm. They must be big and juicy after the rain and fit for a princess.”

“I have never eaten tame raspberries,” said Bittern cautiously, “but I will try them.” Maybe, he thought, they will be filled with tasty little bugs. Then Bittern became quiet and thought some more.

“May I bring a friend?”

“Sure!” said Bear.

On the way back to his solitary nest, Bittern went round by Duck Pond Farm. In the farmyard he saw pretty Cindy dropping kittens one by one into a water trough. “One of you must swim long enough to impress my friends!”

“Excuse me, Miss Cindy,” said Bittern. “I want to apologize for being such a disappointment to you last summer.”

“I should think so.”

“I would be honored if you would join me at a feast of raspberries a friend of mine is giving tomorrow in the woods.”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Cindy. “Our tame raspberries aren’t ripe yet and I can’t wait.”

As Bittern settled down for the night, he thought judiciously about his new feast mate and the newest lesson life had taught him: “Bittern,” he told himself, “Bear is the best friend you can find in life. When he invites you to dinner, he intends to be a generous host. Even so, you are always wise to bring along a more delectable companion.”


Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer


Leaves on a Pond. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Leaves on a Pond. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Tiny Pink Flowers: A Very Short Story in Verse

June 1, 2018


He wakes up to her scream, a jolt and his legs
kicking. He sees the pink flowered sheet
spilling over him like lava falling off the bed.
Hundreds of printed flowers falling.

He watches the fingernails of his own hand
dig deep furrows across the bottom sheet.
His hand drops over the side. The walls,
the ceiling shimmer with light.

In the doorway, a red, hard-set face with a gun.
The gun jerks. He hears the second shot, her gasp.
He sees the blue steel hole fixed in a drifting halo.
He smells gun smoke. The mattress wobbles.

Her buttocks rise up beside the bed. The top sheet
folds together as she pulls it back around her body.
She lurches forward, pink flowers trailing behind.
The hands of the gunman tremble.

The revolver extends before him, held with
both hands, still aiming. His feet are apart.
Her shoulders are bare above the sheet. Red oozes
through pink. Her voice is faint — “Bobby?”

As she turns back, the man’s face twists into grief.
The pink flowered sheet is ribboned red.
Muscles tighten in her arms and legs.
She staggers. Her eyes open. Her lips part.

From outside down the hall, a cuckoo calls three.


Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer


Window Light. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Window Light. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Rising Above: A Poem of Spring

April 11, 2018


She admits them
opens no liquor 

Three years they’ve
digging her grave 

Now her thoughts are
thunder and rain 

Their heads are old
snags in her river 

She rises above
and floats free 

She rides her white
waters to the sea


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).



Old Orchard Beach Sky – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Family Graves near Clinton, Kansas

March 28, 2018


To have lived a decade here
before I found these names:

        Edith Smetzer
        Daugh. of D. & E. Smetzer
        Died 1886
        Aged 14 days

Her infant bones the earliest in the churchyard.

        John Smetzer
        Died June 18, 1892
        Aged 74 years, 5 months, 15 days

At 61 he had been the oldest of the Ohio Smetzers
to travel west to Kansas
and disappear.

These things I have heard of my great great uncle:

        that he was illiterate,
        that he never married,
        that he was a hired man,
        that he was the only man of his family
                never to own land.

And I understood that he moved westward
        across the land
like a lateral root
hardly disturbing the leaves.

So here you ended, old uncle,
your plot open to the sky,
buried more deeply in your faint depression
        of earth
than ever you plowed.

It is evening.
Light blue still marks the western edge,
but the sky above is growing higher, thinning,
falling back through darker blues
to the blackness behind the stars.

And you, uncle, are still thinning
        in your darkness,
still dissolving into this place I’ve come to.
The twilight dissolves my family name
and leaves me open to a field of stones.

Years from now, my great nephew’s children
        may hear of me:

        that I never married
        that I worked for wages,
        that I never owned land.

And I would like them to understand
that I was an illiterate of the earth,
as transient in my time as John in his,

as transient really as Edith there,
who never knew the soil
before it closed her in.


First published in Kansas Quarterly.



This poem was first published when I was 39 and an aging bachelor. Much has changed since, including my knowledge of John’s life. “Smetzer Graves” would make poor genealogy today. Fortunately it is not a genealogy or a biography, but a poem.

Poets and fiction writers often start out writing about themselves, people close to them, and their feelings. But no matter what grammatical person a poem or story uses, in the end it turns out to be about a much larger “us.”


My great grandfather Michael Smetzer and an unindentified man.

My great grandfather Michael Smetzer and an unindentified man.

After Failing at Sex I Dream of Garage Doors Opening

March 12, 2018


Returning apologetic with tacos
I get out of my car and pause outside
our garage door in the night 

The touch of my finger opens the door
The touch of my finger closes the door
and opens it again 

I am opening and closing our garage door! 

Spotlights whip across the sky
Orion dances 

And all the garage doors in our town
are opening and closing together


First published in Platte Valley Review.


Mike's Master Garden! - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Mike’s Master Garden! – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.