by Steven M. Smith
Her shoulder-length hair gift wrapped
in a floral towel and the way she leaned
forward, her bath water breasts pressed
to her thigh, her leg up on the edge
of the tub and that arousing sound
of the razor scratching across the soapy
stubble on her shin while her left hand
cupped the hollow behind her knee.
often tell each other
they’re often concerned about
something that doesn’t concern
them such as the Sunday
afternoon they sat straight up
in the wicker chairs on their
open front porch using their
smartphones to film the elderly
woman who lives across the street
as a darkening sky brought
a threatening gust of wind
that raised and flapped her floral
cotton house dress up above
her waist as she struggled
with a mop handle near
the top rung of her rickety
16-foot ladder to dislodge a wasp
nest the size of a bugle’s bell
buzzing with a call to arms under
the second story eave of her
raised ranch in a neighborhood
where some are often concerned
about something that doesn’t concern
But names will never
hurt us, so the saying goes.
So does that mean you can bash
the door in on our private
space with a battering
ram of name-calling? Whack
us up aside the temple
with a rat-a-tat-tat of hate
words? Go ahead and box
our ears with malice? Your words
might make us wobble and well
up a bit. Your words might even
feel like you swung a few sticks
and heaved a few stones.
But please think how lonely
and grueling and miserable
to relentlessly lug and shove
and drag from day to day
so little love all over this little
space . . . and to amass all
that unpredictable volatility
in the armory of your mouth.
Another October midnight is now
just a sigh and a shrug. Halloween
left trash cans choking on candy wrappers.
Evil dentists counting on cavities.
Costumes shoved back into burial bins.
Cemeteries are nursing the annual hangovers
of the dead. The burned-out jack-o’-lanterns
with their mushy flesh and brittle brain stems
know the trick is up. Today they will treat
their maker in the compost pile.
But somewhere on a rutty path
of an urban legend and leafless trees
the ghost of a horse is still rearing
in the startled dawn, still stamping
and snorting. Its restless horseman
still has a shadow for a head—no flaming
pumpkin to burn his way through the fog.
Only that same solitary candle continues
to flicker in the gaping hole in his chest
where his heart used to be.
Look What She Found
Look what she found
on a hook behind her late
husband’s garage workbench—
a fortification that he occupied
after his tours of duty
to minimize casualties
and endure the ongoing war:
She found his missing
dog tags folded in a farewell
note buried in a blank envelope
draped with a forever flag stamp. She seldom
talks about the garage morning
he yanked the ring—a grenade pin—
from his finger and tossed it
into the recycling bin
as he stacked his moving boxes
like sandbags on the concrete floor
during that final battle—
before the inevitable retreat—
that would end the war.
Steven M. Smith’s poems have appeared in publications such as Rattle, Poem, Old Red Kimono, Plainsongs, Poetrybay, Ibbetson Street Press, Studio One, The River, Cabildo Quarterly, Better Than Starbucks, Hole in the Head Review, and Mudfish. He has poetry forthcoming in The Worcester Review. He is the Writing Center director at the State University of New York at Oswego. He lives in North Syracuse, New York.