Two Poems by Michael Schmeltzer

“are you ok I’m worried about You say something”
—SPAM email subject line
I am burning crayons in the dark.
Have I returned to
or destroyed my
childhood? Every color
melts, especially our favorites.
Who once said their bones
were as soft as candlewax?
Those with ears
listen. Those without ears
listened too much. I heard
it takes
eight pounds of pressure
to rip off the human ear
and an immeasurable amount
of willpower. Keep listening. 
worry. I lost
so much.
A father arcs a chainsaw
down on a rosebush
then pats himself on the back,
a demolition of blossoms.
A mother approaches
with a pair of hand shears
and sculpts the damage done,
says to the clueless man, “yes, yes, dear you are
one of the good ones.”
What the father knows of pruning
amounts to a squirrel-head more
than he knows of love.
He twitters like the smallest bird
with the biggest beak. He speaks
but does not hear. He places
garbage in the garbage
but tenderly
as if it were precious.
We have misplaced our gentleness.
Mothers, fathers, listen.
Some of us hurt
others while some of us hurt.
We have taught the young
how to
tear flesh
with their baby teeth.


The human tongue like the tail
of a scorpion—every word
first formed in the venom gland
of our brain.
The story about the scorpion
killing itself when surrounded by flames,
it isn’t true. 
It’s just dying, despite the theatrics.
Was fire the first instrument
of torture or was water?
What we can do
with the simplest elements
is enough to keep me awake.
(Sleep, too, when deprived
is another form of punishment.)
And what about language well-wrought
and sadistic? We now define this
as a violence.
No...not define it. We make it
Not too long ago
we used music unbearably,
tortured our enemies with song.
Then we invented 
a way to drown them
without drowning them.
I am at the grocery store
buying cotton candy grapes,
water in bottles, a honeycrisp
apple. I am stumped
by the number of body washes.
We’re blessed with the pleasure
of meandering up and down aisles
while listening to the heart-sick songs
from our youth
even though we’re old and in love. 
We forget the failures that matter most;
we call those moments
prosperity. We speak platitudes
of peace
in order to keep moving,
and even during war we share
pleasantries as carefully
as shaking hands with a sword.

Michael Schmeltzer is the co-author of the nonfiction book “A Single Throat Opens,” a lyric exploration of addiction and family. His debut “Blood Song” was a Washington State Book Award Finalist for Poetry and longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. He was recently a finalist for the Jake Adam York Prize for his unpublished poetry manuscript “In the Great War I Become Cake.” Schmeltzer was born in Japan and eventually moved to the US. A former Jack Straw Fellow, he currently lives in Seattle where he serves as the President of Floating Bridge Press.