A Few of Jared Smith's Poems

He Does What It Takes

Curling his fingers around porcelain
he cradles the morning cup of coffee and watches
steam rise between his fingers, how each finger
shapes the fog of morning with his unique mark,
his DNA and his fingerprints upon the swirl of time,
and he listens to the tick of the clock upon his wall,
the first birds beginning to sing in his garden,
and a dog startled by dawn down the street,
the morning paper hitting with a thud at his door.

This is what the man is before he goes out
to turn the ignition in his family car. It is what
his wife thought of before she thought of diamonds
and before there were other souls beneath this roof.
It is the little things that make the man what he is,
the scent of his chemical balances, the colors he sees
as sun rises over the blasted buildings of his city,
the tiniest bits of the universe that have come to him
and pulled together to be unique in all of time.

This is what he is, and he goes out each morning
to do what the machine asks and comes back each night.
At night the crickets are calling to the darkness and light
within him, and the hum of commerce fills his veins.
He whispers of love with each breath he takes.

Copyright, Jared Smith, first published in Louisiana Literature


A grasshopper crawls over the twisted steel rail, rusting
within a hand’s reach from where I sag down on haunches,
tumbles on its head, flails its feet on the rotting wooden ties
and takes to air tick-wickering the way grasshoppers do.
My fingers reach out to the yellowed aspen leaves,
testing their resilience which is not much, then dust.
I don't know why I have come to the end of this rail
way track that lies abandoned behind houses and rocks.
The sky has never looked so blue or the sun so dappled,
and my lungs are filled with the first cold air of autumn
from deep down where the wildflowers hold their roots.
Oregon grapes grow bitter but big in blueberry memories,
their thorny leaves strung in holly garlands along the ground.

The world ticks again, whickers, and wings fill the sunlight,
across our alpine meadow. The suits hanging in my closet
have so filled with time that they do not fit any longer. There
are dark men standing in the midst of forests all across our land.
They have their calloused hands out, calling silently.

Laying my hands to the steel bent and rusted, narrowing
toward home I feel still the hard hands of men who made this rail
a way of transitioning things that bring change from cities; those
hands torn lifeless now but not so long ago holding wars in Europe
between plantings of the seeds that grow around us now, and I
hear the winds of winter gather above our peaks, whipping
down wind and water carved canyons and through the aspen.
The mountains groan along that line of time, and space is
the opening of time between each leaf upon each trembling limb.

Each blade of grass, each leaf of sedge is sharp to the fingers,
cutting away the seasons of growth that gave it green,
each slender stock tinged toward tomorrow with yellows,
browns, reds intertwined. And the air is bright with the
scent of an old lady's Depression era spice cabinet.

In the dark pools, the hidden riffles far above Boulder
in the off-road unmapped Indian Peaks Wilderness, the
sun is rising inside brown trout and smoking inside their sides
with all the colors of the mountainsides where no one sees.

They bend into the rocks themselves spending their spawn
into the fusillade of color that gives life to time, flesh to flesh,
encasing themselves in bright red eggs that are the dawn of everything
dark beneath the water that feeds upon the songs of crickets,
and I wonder what this rail is still doing here, scarring
this seam of land. I think at times I know.

Copyright, Jared Smith, published in Poetry Bay, 2011

In the Plate Glass Window Factory

In the plate glass window factory they watch reflections of sky
and melt down silicon mountains before coffee break.
The sun rises and sets in iron vats.
It is contained.
In the plate glass window factory they build liquid frames
for pictures of farm houses where the farmer rises early in the morning
or for train cars that ensnare the mountains of a continent
and for young women baking bread in little towns of red brick homes.
In the plate glass window factory as the day goes on the breathing hardens
and they pour their crystal lakes into featureless trays
which can be filled with anything,
sweeping time from the floorboards and cutting it out to hang on walls.
And in the plate glass window factory, the workers never go home,

not even when they fish dark rivers beneath the stars.

Copyright © Jared Smith, 2001, from his book Walking The Perimeters Of The Plate Glass Window Factory (Birch Brook Press, NY, 2001)
Purchase this book at Amazon.com

Seven Minutes Before the Bombs Drop

...Everyone still has names.
Sand is gritting against my eyes when the wind blows,
scraping counterpoint to the dry coughs of my son beyond the wall.
There is no medicine that will help this, I think,
but music is playing on a radio down the street.
Everyone I know will be gathering there:
we will barter for what we need; trade scraggly chickens or dates for shoes;
trade shoes for drinking water before the sun gets high.
I will seek medicine among my friends.

Seven minutes before the bombs drop
we are sitting in the dim lights of a church reading poetry
talking with words meant for little animals we might keep tethered
or lock into our kitchens so they will not soil the rugs while we sleep.
Between the words, though, we are talking of other things,
are bartering whether we will wear chains about our necks
or will make it into old age in one piece ourselves;
and we are reflecting on the words of other solitary thinkers
who talked of war while drinking cognac in bomb shelters in the blitz.

Seven minutes before the bombs drop
we are crying, running, our bladders filled,
our muscles quickening as never before in Kansas,
and we thump our open hands down on throbbing metal fuselage.
We throw ourselves into cylinders that have only one direction to go.
The painted gray of the runway trembles, breaks loose, and falls away;
becomes the endlessly wide sere blankness of the sea…and then light
will begin beneath our wings. Sand into sand and dust into dust.
Testosterone may be a great thing, but it does not last without love.

I am going to go home when this evening ends
and sit with my wife and children around the dinner table;
we will light candles as a centerpiece, and we will drink wine.
I will turn the CD player on low and listen to the ancient songs;
the songs that are no longer written, and will cry.
Yes, I'm going to go there down the highway in my '96 Lumina;
faster than I should, outside the law, but in my Lumina.
That's okay; you can come too. You come too; there is no guilt
in holding onto each other in our despair through the miles;
there is no guilt unless we ever re-elect the darkness that envelopes us.
We are the light, if only by the choice of fate and mystery of words.

Copyright © Jared Smith, 2005, from his book Lake Michigan And Other Poems, (Puddin'head Press, Chicago, 2005)
Purchase this book at Amazon.com

Storm King Mountain

Chewing on a stalk of jimson weed,
looking down from Storm King Mountain
where the river flowed its columns of autumn colors,
Pete and I would toss small bits of granite like paperweights
out over the trees and listen to see if we could hear them coming back.
Once in awhile we did hear a distant clink
like the meshings of a gear coming into place;
a squirrel's bright eye would leap from our fingers,
a barge of rusting iron would swirl about and pause on the river below.
It would be a dingy red square upon a blue ribbon
far removed from the sun igniting our valley.
Something dark is coming this way, he said.
I nodded, but what is a man to do.

There was a military academy below us.
There was Vietnam. There were heart attacks.
There were clocks with metal tongues counting our days.
There were gray faced women with gay lit bows
wrought in foreign shops by lives long locked away.
And the sun was beating down upon us,
so that we shed our shirts and began to burn;
Would it be so bad, we thought,
if something dark were coming this way,
when we could see it all so very well.
We have the time to plan;
we have a vista spread about us.
We can feel the roots of the earth taking hold.

We looked to the sunsets and waves of grain to our west;
even there along the marsh drawn margins of the river
where mallards and mergansers nest and long legged egrets
stretch between two cosmologies to pull coins from the waters
while wild rice rises into evenings catching fire along its flaring tips.
Deer fill the dreams of our suburban alleyways,
always moving, shifting shadows at the edge of sight,
and wild maidens clasp them to their hearts, run bare-legged
into thickets of desire we cannot understand but will come to cope with.
Why would it be hard with all these flames of life
swaying with the waves of autumn and a rising sun:
If something dark were to come this way, it would be filled with light.

In time, a shirt turns into a thousand pounds of metal at 80 miles per hour.
It turns into thirty tons of metal at 100 miles per hour.
It turns into a factory of crushed stone where life sweats into the cellar seeps.
It turns into a lair built of fallen trees, wrought iron, and electric needles.
It becomes a game of rock-paper-scissors
where somehow the paper shears off mountainsides and cuts metal.
Shadows come crashing through our windowpanes
to take small pills at night from bedside tables;
and, yes, an older man needs to sleep sometimes while the world keeps up.
And, yes, I can sleep, and can still keep it up as well as any man:
Even when something dark is coming toward us I am eager to pump light into it.
There is nothing gentle in a big black box barreling down a concrete river,
though its heart and soul and every shadow within its bulk is filled
with grains of the earth that could feed an endless multitude.
Not with the sun's rays igniting all it touches at 100 miles per hour
contained within the dark.

Copyright © Jared Smith, 2007 from his book Where Images Become Imbued With Time (Puddin'head Press, Chicago, 2007)
Purchase this book at www.puddinheadpress.com

Evening, Yes, But A Man Is Still A Man

When shadows grow from Chicago's alleys
and rattle garbage can lids with gusts of wind
that come in across the heartland,
an old man's attention flickers like a cigarette lighter.
He stubs the morning's sales beneath a worn boot heel,
and looks to stars that have not been seen for generations.
Babies are hung out to dry from fire escapes.
A truck becomes a German steelworker's family
clearing their throats outside a vacant echoing oven in Detroit.
A broken hydrant leaks into the gutter, becomes a flood,
washes years from a plot where the pavement ends.

The man is a newspaper soaked into his own days,
where one page becomes glued onto another indelible
and indistinguishable from the stench of drunken nights.
The bottle to his lips has no name but darkness,
though it was filled from grains growing beneath the sun.
Call him stockbroker, and he will sell you a steer
with a wooden mallet buried between its eyes,
and he will follow you from city to city across our nation
offering up his family on every empty plate you come to.
Call him a tradesman, and he will trade every iron worker
for one closed out steel mill and a teenage soldier.
Tell him he is a product of the Rust Belt
and the infrastructure of every city will come uncoupled.

Do not try to sing his song on the radio.
Hunt for it instead in the loves he has left behind him.
Do not try to tell him what his interests are:
they can no longer be recognized for what they were.
Do not try to buy his wages or his time:
his is the Midwest voice newscasters dream of catching.
Tell him you're from Wall Street and you can offer a better living.
Tell him that, and he'll brick you in.

Copyright © 2006, Jared Smith, first appeared in Home Planet News

Home | Biographical Info | Critics' & Poets' Quotes | Sample Essay
Sample Poems | Books | CDs | Readings & Workshops | Links