Dale Smith


Looking out a window. There are stars. A hunter and a scorpion. Polaris and Antares. The cold winter wind. I was minding my own business. Looking for ways to address this war. There are lists of atrocities catalogued by acquisitive minds.

I woke up this morning to a woodpecker working the dead walnut by our window. We live along the 98th meridian. We have organic produce and alternative news sources. Images collect in the air.

I stuck my foot into the ground. The shovel slid easily into black clay. There was mist in the air, and my little boy played nearby. With loppers I cut dead elm roots. Ten inches down, 24 around. My wife clipped the dead branches of the salvia indigo. The plumbego had frozen back too. We were three in the yard. Our car leaked oil on driveway mulch. There's a spirit in these limbs. The clay stuck to my boots and hands. We spread mulch and grew hungry. For lunch there were eggs.

There are few subtle gestures this new year. A pine grosbeak surprised me, fluttering up to the sunflower seeds. We learned humming birds are native to North America. I sipped mate de coca, illegally, pleasantly, but barely high.

I shared a bench in Sana'a with an Iraqi once. That was ten years ago now. He taught high school. Mailed riyals to Baghdad each month.

"Why does your president do this?" he asked. They were bombing again. The traffic was loud and the air polluted. School children laughed at Egyptian cartoons on television. A man squeezed fresh lemon juice into a blender with ice. Boys on motorcycles flashed by in brilliant colors. Men shared plates in a nearby café. Some carried daggers on their hips.

Picking up shoes. Sweeping the floor. Putting the trash out. My son took his chicken with pesto. The wind changed. It was warmer. The evening sky broke up into streaks of light. The tree was planted. I hoped it might rain. Set the jade on the porch. No moon, but fog. Mist again. Another night.


It's New Year's Eve. The Chinese New Year-Year of the Sheep. And today was warm and sunny. My little boy went bare-foot. The bullvine bloomed and redbuds lifted a few tiny pink nodes from gray limbs. Quince branches flamed with red blossoms and sparrows and cardinals searched seed among the wort and grasses. The wind was dry, and from the west.

My son and I went to the mall for blue jeans. Red balloons lifted above the clothing racks. I wanted Levi's but they didn't have any my size. The boy squirmed. Said, "Water," which sounded like "Wado," some distant outpost of the imagination.

This evening I met a graduate student. He studied journalism and was about my age. I mentioned a professor in his department, a leftist ideologue. Yes, the student studied with him. He evinced a polite dislike for the teacher, actually. "I could never be a professional journalist," he said. "School was a convenient place to land. Some things fell through."

Other things now worked in his favor. He had been a Green Beret. Perhaps, once in that elite corps, it's hard to leave. Having joined another special operations reserve unit, he awaited departure orders to Iraq.

"It's already started," he said, referring to the future war with Baghdad.

We drank beer in the pleasant evening air, Hoa holding our son who was stirring french fries into a glass of water. Grackles crapped on the deck and on unoccupied, wrought iron tables.

We talked systems. Technology. "Human nature."

The realism of the right is as distorted as the idealism of the left. And it's hard to sign up for the desert when what you're fighting for is Nike, Coca-Cola and McDonald's. Obese America. Grim conditions of the homeland, as it is-fear and terror fuelling democracy.

But he had practical interests in soldiering, and understood what he did in accordance with national security. Machiavelli, not Marx. It was an appropriate post-renaissance position.

"Communism could never work," he said. "Those ideals never withstand the manipulations others press on them."

"But what comes after the gold rush?" I asked him. "After the American pig-out?" We laughed, yes, the pig-out. We oinked a little even, but he didn't answer.

I admired his conviction, and it must be fun. Armed with the knowledge of terminal technologies. Slipping into the darkness of a northern desert. Squatting in a mufrag over a glowing laptop. Boys and their toys. He took me seriously. He was sincere. I liked him.



The Space Shuttle cracked up 40 miles over Texas. Little chunks spread across the state. Israel's first astronaut scattered into the Lone Star sky.

My son and I worked in the yard, tearing out weeds and pruning dead growth. He dragged the loppers behind him. Said, "Loppers," dropped them, and squatted beside a bed of bullvine.

And now winter brings cold wind from the north. My son refused to wear a coat, and his nose turned red. We read books and he went to bed. David Hadbawnik called and we talked about war.


A red tailed hawk landed in the sycamore next door. She rests on a high branch. Blue jays dive at her head. She is impressive and gorgeous.

How will these days add up? The little boy runs into my room completely naked. "Hawk, hawk, hawk," he says. And, "penis," touching himself. He tries to sound like a hawk too, projecting a high-pitched screech.

This is the year of the goat. We have red wine. Bananas in coconut shavings. Sprigs of rosemary and lemon grass. Our days are domestic and careful. There are no jobs, and only small things to believe in.


Look at the baby playing with his mother. He follows her. Picks up the hose and holds it to his mouth. She is cutting flowers, pruning the pink, faded blooms. And I wish that he would come here. Stand on my knees in his orca Robeez. But he is otherwise occupied. He sees bees in the daisies.

On the news I heard of protests in Germany. Ten thousand in the streets of Munich.

Put dead leaves in the compost bin. Dried out winter stems and branches. Datura seeds break out of crisp brown pod. Raccoon tracks are lightly etched in black clay.