Poetry » J.L. Smith »



Pollen is coming to the Korean
Peninsula from mainland China
through wind puffs
on a weather map,

and I think it is amusing

the European continent
lies between us
on the map.

That you, in America,
are so far way.
That no breeze of my birth
can touch me now.

That in Asia
where the degrees are
measured in Celsius,
not Fahrenheit,
and the local language is made in Hangul,
not English characters,
makes perfect sense
to the one who wants to be deaf
to your voice:

to be that puff that resides opposite,
away from you,
in the world.


Pile the hair like twigs
with just themselves as company
on the white tub edge.

Gather them from the nape
of your neck
tight like reins
where the hair never feels the sun
and never lightens like it should.

Pull them back
in a ponytail
made with shampooed hands.

Take the loose ones.
Add them to the stack
of black hairs
next to the hydrogen peroxide bottle

that strips the color you hide
when you are naked,
but not the color you prefer
when you are clothed.

Mud (A Sunday School Lesson)

She showed the children a cup
made of Styrofoam:
White, the color of righteousness,
of purity and god,
brighter than her teeth
and lighter than her skin.

Light eyes brightened and dimmed
as she reached behind her back
and produced another cup:
the one with the mud caked surface.
Mud, the color of earth,
the color of toil,
the color of debris swept from homes
and sidewalks, the type that cracks
when it dries and smears pale
limbs when wet and stains bath water.

Shuddering, the children all knew what was right:
which cup was better,
which cup was trash.
Except the child who sat on the perimeter
of the circle, the child the others
would not speak to on Monday,
because she lacked money and two parents.
She was the one who shook her head
and selected dirt
because she trusted not what seemed
to be clean and perfect
and did not gasp when the teacher
revealed the dirty cup to be clean inside
and the clean one to be filthy on the outside,
but was ashamed when everyone else
turned to her,
when she alone saw the truth.