Shark Songs

Poems by Tim Van Schmidt

Vietnam is another star…

Vietnam is another star
You wear on your hat, another
Token of the luck you try
To change with Spartan resolve.

Sweeping, always sweeping out
Your father’s restaurant, heaps
Of chicken and potatoes clog
Your brain like the sorrows of
So many wrong turns, missed
Opportunities, and the death you smelled.

You have not been singled out
But bear with the false ease
Of Thai weed and beer
The faceless punch of a world
All too conscious of its horrible grinding.

Days are simply beads strung
Around everyone’s neck, your life
As random a choice as it is
Chosen with care and pain.

The Arctic Bird

Sometimes, the winds are too much
And that’s why she cuts over the clipped waves,
To sharpen her wings to an edge.
The Arctic is slow-moving
But attacks with a thousand teeth.
She must be quick and sleek.
Blasted without mercy, she tumbles
Like a pinwheel, struggles with balance.
She keeps her freedom
By shaving back excess.
She keeps to the air and
She keeps to herself.

Guts are…

Guts are
Running pirate radio on
A freighter in
The North Sea. They’re
Bringing Bill Hayley and
The Shirelles to Europe
For the first time.
They’re fighting off cancer
With a drink and a cigarette.
You cough,
Laugh and tell it
To go take a hike.


What’s so strange about
The hairless body smeared
With gold, glitter in
The mirror by the door?
Confess your shaving
With an impatient sigh.
Say you want to act while
Endless scrub trails
Into a blur outside,
The dynamite truck driver
Babbles out loud,
The old lady battles
her seat belt; you are
sitting too close. Spin
tales of student days,
exotica nights; good money
and shame: at the club
glass reveals a boy’s body,
face of surprise,
a queen from Queens.

Shark Song

It seems benign now, cheating
Partners for a free lunch, but
This Great White
Once helped kill a pimp
Who raped a friend’s daughter.
He swung the gun wildly
Out the helicopter door
And shot the hell out of
Everything in the rice paddies.
He even blindsided his pal
When they were drunk in New York,
Dropped him to the dank, cigarette-butt
Floor and laughed.
You can’t trust anyone
Who doesn’t sleep, or whose belly
Breaks through the ice
Like a mindless hunger, a
Pitiless greed. It’s
Just bad business.

The Eye

The corner of my eye follows
The slide of a woman who
Doesn’t notice me; a part
Of the day, a world full
Of strangers, business passing
Through anonymous time. Alive
But risking nothing, directed
Yet unconnected to
The possibility of sparks
Shooting from the brain if
Her eye met mine. I
Think of one eye that
Will not move. His hand
Won’t play, voice won’t pluck
Meaning from the night. Can
She be more dead than he?
Is his loss shame while
Her day is waste?
Relax, says the friend who
Has taken his dive, be
Happy you can even see.
Move on, he advises,
As the corner turns and
Another eye winks in the sun.

For them…

For them, this moment
Drew the line that
They crossed without warning:
The deadly curve.
What greeted them was
A requiem of darkness
In the cold, cloudy water.

This was not white light
But timeless night, broken only
By the sirens that came too late.
They plunged into the deep together
And then waited together
Until hands could pull their tragedy
Into the air,
Senseless and lost.

For those left behind,
Faith mixes with the tenuous
Chaos of a world
Churning without reason.
For them, the hopes and fears of
A lifetime have become
Strangely silent. Strange,
Because it only took a moment.
Strange, because life
Never knows death
But feels its painful meaning
Each time the line is scored.

Drunken angel fly…

Drunken angel fly, your
Acerbic wit has finally failed
To raise you from the bloody bedsheets.
Where is your son and are
Your daughters with you?
Your mother is, the lady
Who has mopped up after
So much of your pain.
Go, sore spirit, to God
And have heaven kiss away
All of your hurt and sorrow.
May death take you
For a glorious ride,
The universal radio tuned
To some old gold.

Nebraska Morning Walk

The old houses were dead,
Their creaking doors
Like scattered plaster
On icy floors.
Bits of snow clung
To patches of dry weeds.
And the dog and cat were quick
In the cold following me.

It’s nothing now,
Last night’s
Convulsive weeping.
There was dinner,
The wound I opened,
My face fat and blushing
With the warm echo of kaluha.
And I couldn’t tell you
What it was
I wanted to hear you say.
You refused to even try,
Your face
Never moving.

The air outside was so still,
Plain, prairie, farm fields empty,
Abandoned houses full
Of broken glass, rusted gears,
Cracking rubber tires, birds and cans.
Weeds were smothered with snow,
Broken fences forever crippled,
And the cat and dog exploded
Right on my heels.

There they were…

There they were, three
Young men checking
Up on an old neighbor caught
With his fly open on
The front steps. What
They remembered most were
The treats in Mrs. Schuller’s kitchen,
Talks in the parlor and
Pete’s homemade bug spray.
What they got was
An old man embarrassed
About taking a leak in
The tall grass rustling
Against his empty house.