Dennis Schmitz

May 1996


the man away from home
has memorized his wife’s
slip, charts his journey with a mental
ruler across her
chest, the sleepless islands.
sometimes with a small boy’s
geography he can’t
rough out where he loves
her & is lost
around her navel sunk
in sweat like a tide-pool.
he pictures his tongue
squirming, heavy
fish finding a way to gasp
out love as taste shrinks
this last water.
from a case of samples
he takes a lipstick
to plan a local version
of her body
as big as the motel bed.
on it he thrashes all night
misinformed by the old maps.

April 2000

Abbott’s Lagoon

The storm’s still everywhere I step,
affectionate like a lover who touches you

with pliers, at the periphery
of the ego little wavelets like blisters.

The lagoon’s surface is folded
in labial wind-stirrings; a few birds twitch

in & out of the water onto the sand
that’s the color of a rainblasted trenchcoat.

Then, at the edge of the ocean,
I study three minutes (I time myself

to know when to wade in) the loose
mound in the backwash that’s flexing

& bobbing in the ocean’s insomnia.
Is it the suicide you always promise in the storm

against yourself, or just more kelp
torqued around its own embrace, loving

any sort of afterlife, self-tangled like all
of us, oozing the bottom’s root-grease

into the water around it? Glad to be puzzled,
I step back, turn from all the evidence

& trot into another morning’s work-out.


The owner of the softball refuses
street-war rules,
so only some cripples & one woman bat

irresolute, baited by the camp’s Viet
vets & freight train vets
who say the game’s not real.
The transient camp’s only one spigot

in a mown few acres,
ragwort in the margins & Calif oaks
dusted high in the upper, blistered leaves.
Tents & galvanized lean-tos—
everything is the same khaki

or gold resin sweated out of the peeled
saplings & sumac prongs
on which these men hook the excess

by which they’re capitalists:
grommeted GI rain capes,
a shared towel rubbed into mere friction
& crusted holes, a cap, that ball.
But the ball’s not an argument

against injustice,
even though the church’s blue pick-up,
re-crossing the boundary
river to them,, runs
over it, not an analogue

for the godly metabolizing the poor
out of their own need
to give from the truck’s 30-gal stew vats,
the metal wet with coagulant spill,
rattling as the truck wheel passes over

the missed ball, squashed ovoid
now, its seams yielding.
Either none of this happens according to a rule,
or all of it.