J.D. Smith was awarded a 2007 Fellowship in Poetry from the United States National Endowment for the Arts. He has published two collections of poetry: The Hypothetical Landscape and Settling for Beauty. His poetry has received three Pushcart nominations, while his essays and reviews have appeared in American Book Review, Grist and Pleiades.
Smith’s newly published children’s book, The Best Mariachi in the World, is a bilingual (English/Spanish) embedded text picture book that incorporates cultural tradition, wishes, and finding happiness.
The following poems and essay excerpt are previously published, and are featured here with the author’s permission. An interview with J.D. Smith will appear Friday, 11/14 on the blog. Visit his website to read more of his work.
Dusk. The plangent geese migrate.
Ragged chevrons that used to bisect a continent
now settle near a golf course and the retaining pond
of an office park, small oxymoron
inside the larger, land development.
The flocks will rest in head-tucked clusters,
low, transient monoliths, like modest gods
left by a miniature people.
Still, the land-crossing cry
persists as if to close
not a day, but a season,
and mark its loss
with a portion of the brokenness
that informs the haiku’s heart
and the weightless bone, somewhere in my heart,
that is struck and softened
by the sentimental string arrangement
that bathes the climax
of a made-for-TV film
about the latest disease
or another private distress
raised to a social issue, if not elevated:
all is forgiven, by everyone, at death’s door.
Inevitably as that death,
the notes well up, break forth,
and with them my tears.
Pendejo que soy!
The small tide breaks
against my reason.
Pendejo que soy!
The small tide breaks
against my reason.
Literally, in Spanish,
what a pubic hair, meaning fool, I am.
Even my confession is reduced.
In Latin Augustine cried Mea saura!
Literally, what a lizard I am,
Meaning the serpent’s cousin,
and hardly less intimate
with the foot-hardened ground.
Mea maxima saura!
What a great lizard I am,
shouted across the gulf
between perdition and salvation,
showing the passage that awaits
those who can summon
such heights and depths.
From my depths, I’ve summoned
a spiral thread of hair, less than
what I could have called myself,
without affecting a second language:
I should welcome a promotion to simple flesh,
untroubled by distant sounds that weaken
and arrive to no effect, no more than
an earthquake on another continent disturbs
an office park’s builders, or their earnings.
I could look past the short flights
now joined to the landscape
like sparrows, or a soybean field.
(published in Innisfree Poetry Journal, Issue 1)
I punch a gray wall
and break nothing.
The bones of my fingers
have not cracked,
their skin is not scraped.
We can spar like this for hours
until, bored with me,
the low fog burns away.
(published in right hand pointing)
It is only flesh,
More or less the same compendium
Of water, laced
With carbon and trace minerals,
That makes up a bison’s leg,
The pork on a plate.
It is only flesh
Meeting more of the same,
The means for a double helix
To spiral through time.
It is simply flesh
In an aroused state,
Made a vessel
Of attachment, of regret, infused—
afflicted—by what some call a spirit,
Whose noted powers
Do not include taking back
The entanglement of flesh with other flesh,
Now complex as a molecule.
(from Settling for Beauty, by Cherry Grove Collections)
An Immodest Proposal (excerpt)
How a little blue pill could get big results — in species conservation, we mean
Quick: what do sea turtles, black bears, and Philippine fruit bats have in common? At first glance, not much. They don’t look alike, and they have very different ranges and habitats. In fact, one would be hard-pressed even to find them on any of the same guest lists.
But these creatures share one very important trait. Along with seahorses, rhinoceroses, and macaques, they are all hunted, sold, and consumed for use in potions and dishes with alleged “aphrodisiacal properties.” For men. And I think we know what that means.
In a more perfect world, we men might be willing to age gracefully and hang up — well, whatever it is we hang up, say, spurs — and retire from certain pleasures of the flesh. When that happens, though, men will be too distracted to care. We’ll be busy watching pigs fly.
Until that day arrives, there will be a market for products that enhance “male performance” (presumably not in rugby). In Asia and Central America, among other places, this means resorting to traditional, animal-based remedies. Two tragedies can result. The first is personal: they may not work. The second is even, ahem, greater: threatened species are being hunted to extinction, with untold consequences for ecosystems and economies.
As experts in international development know, however, this is generally not a matter of good guys and bad guys, black hats and white. Poachers, often poor and uneducated, are simply trying to make a living by meeting a demand. If the market for their contraband product dries up, or if alternative livelihoods are available, they might well find other work.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Behavior and culture take time to change, and there is no silver bullet. There is, however, a little blue pill.
Yupper. That one. Sildenafil citrate, though no one calls it that. It is currently sold by Pfizer (in which I have no stock) under the name of Viagra, but even after the patent expires the name seems likely to remain in the language, like Kleenex or Xerox, as the term for a whole product category and not just one brand.
Of course, there are now other products for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, which goes by the friendly acronym ED. (This sounds like someone you might play poker with once a week.) Treatments for our pal ED now include Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline’s Levitra (vardenafil hydrochloride), a brand name derived from the Latin root of the verb “to raise,” and ICOS and Eli Lilly’s Cialis (tadalafil), which sounds like an MTV VJ from the late 1980s. More brands are forthcoming and, as with Viagra, after the patent period expires, the eventual generic market for these drugs is expected to be sizeable.
The implication is clear. If we want to save black bears and rhinos, we have to get these drugs into the hands of the people who would otherwise be paying for those animals’ parts or doing the hunting for themselves.
(Read the entire article from the March 22, 2005 issue of Grist online.)