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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Peter Schmitt

Winter Memory, Miami

The kitchen dark but for the dim fluorescent,
my father bends to the thermometer
at the window. Later, outside, the crescent
moon dangling, slowly turning he monitors
the speed of the wind, if there is any wind,
while I stand in the chill of the open door.
Over his pajamas he wears a thin
jacket, and I don't let him see me there.

Somewhere in far rows lies this year's crop, a veil
of ice descending each leaf. And sprinklers
click through the minutes like crickets, casting
their drops as if from the hand of a priest,
while still further out, the smudge pots flicker,
faceless jack o' lanterns strewn across the fields.

Packing Plant

They must have thought I was spying on them,
my father's employees in the packing plant--
me, the boss's kid, scribbling during breaks
inside the latticed cab of a forklift.
How could I tell them those notes were poetry?

I could barely convince myself. But still
I filled the pages of the little pad,
while the place roared around me: trucks backing in,
dirt from the fields still caked in their treads; washes
and steam, groan of conveyor belts; the shouts,

the clatter of cans rattling down a chute,
hiss of boilers, and all of it echoing--
but whatever I found the concentration
to write about, it was never the plant
or its people: not the ladies on the line

in their yellow rubber boots and gloves, hairnets,
pulling, like editors, each tomato
gone soft or black or too small, shifting their weight
when their hips then knees then backs began to ache;
not Willie Cunningham, who steered a forklift

with one long black finger, who could whirl it
on a Liberty dime he'd been at it
so long, while I couldn't even drive a car
yet, banging the forks against the pallets;
Willie, who in a couple of years would lose

his testicles to cancer, my father
visiting him in the hospital, as I
waited in the car. None of it seemed worth
writing about, not even my own job,
trundling the emptied produce bins to storage,

building them to the rafters forty feet high--
not that, or the way the lunchtime whistle
would carry like a train's, shaking the beams
of the little whitewashed churches down the road,
and bring the workers forward from the dark--

and maybe I really was spying on them,
and just didn't know it: too busy stacking
stanzas like bins all the way to the sky--
until the next truck rumbled in with its load
and I shifted, awkwardly, into gear.

Renewing the Vows

My father, who will be dead in seven months,
and my mother are renewing their vows

in the nineteenth-century New England church
they married in, thirty-eight Octobers back.

The few of our small family are there,
my brother, my father's sister, her friend,

a couple of cousins. My mother, smiling
almost shyly it seems, has yet to take

her eyes off my father, who stands there trembling
a little, partly from the tumor, partly

from emotion which the tumor's location
has only exacerbated these days.

I would like for my father to return
my mother's gaze, but he is staring off

in another direction, his shoulders
perceptibly shaking, past the minister,

past the altar, as if he doesn't have to
look at my mother to know that she is there

and will be there. Even as he speaks his part
his eyes are somewhere else, some far corner,

and he is waiting there until, at last,
her hand reaches his for the final passage

of the ceremony, before the book
closes and there are no more words to repeat.