Christopher Henry Smith

Independent Arts Administrator

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A Landscape

Mountains were the easiest to draw.
Pen some bendy lines and
Appalachia unfolded before you.
A few more squiggles:
It was snowing just last week.

Trees—
Evergreens, not otherwise—
Were easy as well.
Get two lightning bolts
Charging away from each other,
Then have them strike
A straight line.
You’ve a novice coppice,
A cursory nursery.

Too, of course, a house:
Take one square,
Plus, one triangle,
Plus, one rectangle;
Add more boxes with crosses,
So we can see out,
And some threes and a seven,
So we don’t freeze.

I wanted
So much
To live there,

Surrounded by the still and the cold--
Someday hanging curtains,
Building a fence--

Not bothered by bedtimes,
Or schoolrooms,
Or people,
Or anything I didn’t know
How to draw.

Angel Fire, NM
2016

Stasis, in Three Parts

I

When I say, “It’s hard,”
I mean, for other people.

What I feel watching the news
Is, at best, third-hand grief.
I own no pain, just a
Comfortable viewing position.

Jenny’s in the hospital watching her hair fall out.
The cops won’t stop shooting us.
Paris is on fire.

But here:
In Uptown,
In Chicago,
In the apartment above the Ethiopian place,
Just across the street from the Green Mill,
At the top of the stairs on the right,
Down to the end of the hallway
(No, not that door, the other one),
I’ve just met you.

And I’m trying to be upset—to weep for our world—
But you’re coming over later,
And we’ll drink wine.

II

“Why doesn’t the treasury just
Print more money?”
She asked.
“Not a lot, but, you know,
Enough to help where it’s needed.”

Greying temples and a discontented grin,
The figure at the front of the class,
Departed from discussing poverty
And taught us a bit about balance.

I now think that's how “Goodness” works:
In steady symmetry with “Not-Goodness.”

Equation-mad, there is somewhere a
Mathematician, quietly accounting compassion,
Filling ledgers with love and
Corresponding columns with hate,
Sleep deprived over proportions,
As we amble around sad or happy,
Thinking it comes so easily.

“Why doesn’t someone just print more good?”
Because of the overseas markets!
Do you want to lose value on what kindness we do have!?

III

I see churches burning across the South,
Complicit masses with mouths shut tight,
And young men confusing ammunition for answers.

I wonder if we are responsible for some of that.
Hoarding our happiness, are we
Keeping it from those who most need it?

The way I feel thinking of you—
That must be a civil war in a country I couldn’t find on a map.

And your eyes when I make you laugh—
There goes another village mud-sliding down a mountain.

And when you say that you love me—

A prime minister is shot.
The doctors come in with bad news.
Suicide bombers aren’t thwarted.
Hate crimes abound in areas
Where the newspaper won’t run the story.
Scientists look on as a new virus is born.
Shuttles implode on takeoff.
Drones strike at civilian targets.
White men in suits cover up a rape
(And then a murder,
And then a military coup).
The baby is lost.

And I,
In disbelief,
Smile and respond,
“I love you, too.”

Chicago, IL
2015

Browsing

I want so badly to be kind here.

To stop ignoring you. To stop feigning interest in whatever’s new with you. To stop hesitating to send you away whenever you pop up.

But I don’t know that I can.

And I acknowledge that that is my problem, not yours. And I’m sorry.

I’ve led you on—I see that.

For a time, we were exclusive. Traveling. Learning. Exploring each other and everything the internet had to offer.

And even when I moved on, you were always there in the background; every time I was on, you were there, quietly, just existing. Just warmly being, somewhere far-off but present at the same time.

Then again, a few times in college, after a few drinks, I’d bring you up. I acted like I didn’t care what everyone else said—what I had said time and again. For a few slow, clunky moments, it was just me and you. I know now that that was not something I should have done.

And.

You’re beautiful.

In your own way.

You know I’m not the kind of guy to turn away from a site just because he can see a bit of the coding or a few broken image links. I don’t mind downloading obsolete plugins to try and better see through your eyes that page clearly designed with other browsers in mind.

You asked me the other day if I wanted you to be my default browser. I didn’t know what to say. For a few seconds I hovered over the “submit feedback” option, hoping myself brave enough to share what I have typed into the comment box of my heart a thousand, thousand times. Instead, I hit Ctrl+W.

You’re not safe for me anymore.

I think you should stop coming around here. You should stop sharing updates, trying to connect when I don’t recognize a file type.

I don’t love you anymore.

And maybe I never did.

Chicago, IL
2015

Black and White and Read All Over: On the June 29th Shooting Outside Bezazian Library in Chicago

“They’re shooting at our books, now?”
I thought, hearing of last night’s Uptown shooting,
And of course, felt horror,
Holy indignation,
For the teenager hit out front—
But.
But also.
I thought of the books.

The real tragedy, OBVIOUSLY, here, today,
Is this young man and his hurting loved ones,
And,
And, DEFINITELY, the greater issues of
Violence and crime at play.

But,
Like,
Do we know if any books were shot?

After, no doubt No Doubt NO DOUBT,
ONLY after,
We’ve consoled the crying mother on the front steps,
And watched the mayor’s brave statement on the news,
And reopened sidewalks so neighborhood kids can
Poke through grass, divining for dropped casings
Missed by cops rushing to get to the next shooting.
Then, when we’re CERTAIN our people have been
Cared for
And held
And sent
Thoughtsandprayersandthoughtsandprayersandthoughtsandprayers,
THEN, can someone PLEASE
Check out the books?

I see the victims stacked naked
Side by side, a shared aperture
Opening from one, into the next,
Into the next, into the next;
An invisible column, goring
One tome after another
In perfect, alphabetical order.
I fear if we let this continue,
If we don’t fight the ‪#literocide‬‬,
Future generations might see us out of context,
Finding our stories with literal holes in them.

Imagine their confusion at:
Ho Keeping
Madame Ovary
Wut Heights
Mo Dick

And,
Absolutely,
You’re right.

In most cases, they will understand just fine
What was being said,
What was going on,
Despite the pinprick on each page.

Odds are, it will be the small words—
Our articles, prepositions,
The odd interjection—
That are lost.
Aliens or archaeologists will still
Recognize the terrain,
Map the essentials,
Feeling no sadness for the
Loss of lesser words
On pages with so many.

Me,
I’m mad for small words.
I want to hold them together
And make poems that start:
“And yet and yet and yet as we but go…”
And finish:
“…for so for so for so it does not unto us;”
Let them know they have value,
That they’re loved,
How we’d be lost without them;
And remind people that this,
This little word here, this
Was someword’s antecedent,
Someword’s object,
Someword’s grammatical relation.
Someword wouldn’t have
Case or context, if not for
The fallen small word.

Soon, our books will start:
“April Clocks Thirteen”
“Mother Died”
“Ishmael”
And our favored, protected bits
Will be all we have left.

They can keep shooting volumes unchecked,
And we’ll watch dull, mustachioed detectives
Filch slugs from the latter halves of reference books,
Finally slowed between “Napoleon” and “Narnia,”
And not makes signs or lose sleep,
Until,
Until they strike any of our big words—
Our heroes,
Favorite quotes,
Heaven forbid the pictures.

God, I hope they shoot Emma,
Mortally wound Jon Snow,
Bury Beowulf.
And people rally in chains
Around our branches—neighborhood and main—
Stand guard in the summer night,
Keeping safe our most precious things,
Reminded that whether the bullet
Hits the big words or the small ones,
The black or the white on the page,
We all lose a part of our story.

Chicago, IL
2016

"Are You a Doctor, Are You Italian": From a Friend on the Train This Morning

No mah mee wai
No mah mee wai

Excuse me
Excuse me
You used to be a boxer
I know you
No one try to rob you
You’s a boxer

No mah mee wai
No mah mee wai

I make this lady laugh
I used to be her husband
Had white skin and
She would give me kisses
But
No more

No mah mee wai
No mah mee wai

I wish I could sleep
Can’t take a nap
Not until 95th
Hush little baby
Don’t you cry
Papa’s gonna buy you
A mocking bird

No mah mee wai
No mah mee wai

Excuse me
Excuse me
Can I get through
Ladies you look so lovely today
Will no one marry me
No one
Ladies, please

No mah mee wai
No mah mee wai

Chicago, IL
2015

Travelling With the Dead

It’s dangerous business
Using the dead to travel.
Unpracticed,
You’ll wind up a stiff yourself,
But there’s hardly a
Quicker method out there.

If you’re ready,
First approach a grave
Or a morgue or columbarium
(Any avenue, really);
No matter whether
They burn them
Or bury them, just
Find someone not breathing.

Then close your eyes and
Concentrate on that person’s name.

There’s a Latin phrase you need next
(Naturally, I won’t note it here),
But it’s really the key in all of this.

And then you’re off.

It’s that easy.

(Truly, it’s a wonder more morticians fond of the classics
Haven’t traversed with the dead on accident themselves).

All the while, it’s important to
Keep your eyes closed and
Think of where you’re going.
If you happen to open your eyes,
The nearest soul in that ether
Will grapple onto you and together,
You’ll surface near where their body
Lies a few feet below in the earth.
(I discovered this quite by accident and spent
Three days trying to find another point of entry
Across miles and miles of the Gobi).

Once you leave the living you’ll know it.
To begin, it’s like jolting
Out of a dream where you’re falling,
(Only backwards).

Then, you feel,
Pleasantly,
As if you’re underwater
And your body is
Covered in tongues all
Licking 9-volt batteries.
It’s just a steady reminder that
You’re alive and
Not in your natural habitat.

And then you’re off,
Dancing from partner to partner
In a bizarre necromancy,
Shifting from one pas de deux
To the next, finally settling
In the arms of a beau
Buried closest to your destination.

No time will seem to have gone
(Or a few weeks if done wrong).

Those first few times,
You’ll arise fish-gasping and damp.
A funny site, no doubt, for passersby
(Or a terrible one for those
Thinking themselves quite alone
Laying flowers at a loved one’s tomb).

You’ll perhaps want to practice surfacing far from the living first.

Soon, though, it’s as easy as stepping on a train.
And such an exhilarating sensation,
Unique to anything you’ll have experienced.
Unless you’ve dabbled in traveling with cats.
(But that’s really another sensation entirely).

Chicago, IL
2015

Homesick in Medina County

A thousand miles away, my mother is calling me back inside for the night.

Her voice spills into the canyon where, homesick, I am driving south.

As I outrun her call, the sunset is a greater miracle than anything I learned in Sunday school:
Streaks of gold are stretching towards me, divining my wet eyes through mesquite and oak.

I drive away from the sun and sound and trees until the palisades echo my cry of, “Wait.”

Please.
Please wait.
Hold onto
This sound
And light,
And, just,
Wait
A moment longer.

Leave the back door unlocked.
I promise I’m ready to turn around, and
I’m done playing for the night, and
I’m ready to come home.

Medina County, TX
2008

For a Pilot

In 1991,
When the Pan Am boys closed up shop,
My pop took it hard.

He killed the television
And made his way out back
To a yard soon thick with smoke.

The night knew his mood—
Creatures kept dumb,
The moon hid behind her clouds,
I made my way out in silence.

My eyes adjusted to the black.

I discovered new shapes.

A lone turtle navigated the fence line.

In time, the clouds opened like drapes, and
Moonlight stretched out across the yard.

I wanted to set out into the black and white footage,
But I mimicked my father’s stare.

He missed the turtle and the moonlight.

The perimeter of his eyes grew grey and tense,
And I groped for words grown and comforting.

And I asked him if the moon reminded him of Granddad’s face.

And he smiled.

And that night he taught me about
The man in the moon,
And turtles,
And how he would fix the television,
And how it had felt to fly.

Austin, TX
2009

Poe at the Taqueria

I wanted to be a pendulum,
Grazing your cheek and neck,
Like the raven earrings
Rocking along your jaw line,

Until I spied your guilty hands,
Stained after their recent crime.
Two cheerful butchers, smeared
Green with the flesh of an avocado.

You finished the defiled fruit and
Lingered on its seed.
It slid between your lips,
And how I wanted to be that pit.

Austin, TX
2009

box of most special things

“i’m trying to give you this,”
you breathed.
“it is a present—a
box to hold your most special things.”

you gave me a—surprisingly large—box for
pencils & neckties & pills & ball-rolled belts & travel alarm clock in his own tidy box
(unfolding only once—
for tangiers to
behold her current time),

& (in numinous tomb-like corner) droves of
your freed bobby-pins,
martyrs gathered from carpet & bed sheets,
when liberty minded (or suicidecrazy) they
abandoned hair-holding to fly south
& lay out in more comfortable climes—
emancipated in a letting go—
single-most daring act of their entire lives—

& pocket watch & ticket stubs & bottle caps & knife—
but not my steely, brazen knife—
nemesis of dead tree branches,
cardboard boxes & trespassers
(on that night we were certain
we heard someone downstairs
& I had to arm myself,
but it was only our cat)—
no, my slugabed bone-cased blade—
rival of pencil shavings, packing twine,
& my poor thumb when i’m drunk,
(that you said was factory-made
& sweated together by malaysian children
& i said was skilled eskimo scrimshaw hand scrawled
& you said well we can pretend
& i just smiled).

a box for papers, papers, papers—
amber-tinged news clippings of fading significance,
reminiscent of make-believe pirate treasure maps,
but with too many x’s—
names & places now only
purplyblack hue of day’s end;
& love notes back & forth from
sleepless three bottle wine nights
of too many cigarettes & broken expensive things
& dawn-screaming from rooftops
with tar-streaked lungs at morning sun
that HE’S NOT WELCOME HERE (!)
& voter-registration card you insisted i acquire
(though i’m not voting again until they
put a buddhist on their ticket);

& arrowheads & coins & shakespearean sonnet
& part of a chain & lamely waning bag of marijuana
& my tiny gold elephant—
a gift from hannah traveling in cambodia—
(sister come back I miss you)
& cufflinks with scrabble-board “c”
which matt bought from a barber in the french quarter—
(brother come back I miss you too)
& incense that smells of
beaches & god sent from karen in care packages from home—
(mother you can stay).

my box of my most special things
blazing with ecstasy
& immortal hope
& violent breathing nostalgia

that you cannot
see from where
you are now
& i want you to,
but you might as well
be on the moon,

where moonmen have
captured you &
put you in their own
box of most special things,
making me your
love-sick astronaut
trying to build my
space craft, so i
can fly & fly & fly
all night

past tangiers & malaysia & alaska & cambodia & new orleans
& bellow down canyons
at your moonmen captors

“GREETINGS MOONMEN!
the time has come:

i will give you my
box of most special things
if you will give me yours.”

Austin, TX
2008

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