Walking the Plank

Poems by Tim Van Schmidt

The Storm

How long I can
Survive in the storm
Will be a question resolved
At some moment later.
As long as I can say,
“It’s like the swift crack
of a horseman’s whip!”
I am more than nothing.
Bent to the rocks,
Jabbed by thorny bushes flying,
My body is a thin but electric taper
Which yields only incomplete victory.
Down I am
Nothing but spoil.
Alive I cup my words
Where nothing could occupy
Without losing
What it would conquer.

Like Smoke

I have been with lovers
Who were like smoke.
I never felt anything
As they curled around me,
Stuffed themselves into my chest.
But now I am glad
To touch the earth,
A quick jolt,
The parachute unhooked
And blowing away.

Walking the Plank

In those last moments
As feet become inches,
The safety of a platform
Becomes brittle edge,
What must be:
Proud thought with no regret,
Or shrunken glands of shame?
No matter what knife prods,
What judgement makes sentence,
What crowd lines behind,
Those last steps will be mine.
Then a hop, cool air and
Escape into waves of fate.
No one follows into the green,
I cannot turn back,
So sink with pleasure,
Pure moment of pain
When I release my crimes
And unpronounceable name.
My springboard recedes,
Angry spit follows into the sea. But
The executioner is not them but me.
Time no longer is an anxious need.
Free at last, the fish will sing.
To them I nod: I’m freed.

The Carpenter

I am empty, I meant to say
But then the Chorus came in to say,
What right do you, a coward, claim
To criticize your heritage and name?
The world is full beyond your dreams,
Are you comfortable, or are we wrong?

So there, confused, I stood and stared,
Ashamed I picked up my hammer, a nail.
I didn’t know if it was I who had failed.
I didn’t know if it was I who could not see,
For I was mute and I was sinking,
I didn’t know what I was thinking.


Fried moth, charred tree
Testify against
The fascism of fire.
It lures, it licks then
Swallows you whole.
It makes no exception.
It rapes without rage, it
Sticks like glue and
Hisses like hunger- flame
Is the spiteless car that drives
Without brakes. Heat
Is the hymn of natural greed.
Fly dumbly into the seductive mouth.
Stand helpless in
The red tidal wave
Blasting across the hills. Tell
The truth that spent lives whisper.


No one offered supplements of smiles.
They were flocking.

Clouds were rising steam and were styrofoam.
They were purple and blue, ink drops.
The sun was dipping, it was five o’clock.
The birds were flocking.

They feed all day in the freshly chopped fields
Where beetles and worms are confused.
The tumbled rows of dried grass,
Sticks in the soil hide the birds.
At sundown, they flock together to the reserve.

I could talk to no one about how they appeared.
Maybe…moving strings of sharp beads
Pulled taut, then limp, taut, then limp.
It was five o’clock. The birds were flocking.

Salt water in sheets…

Salt water in sheets
Pulls at the stones
Like a thousand cupped hands.
Shoving up and around,
Released, the water
Trails back to the tide line,
Five thousand limp fingers.
The hermit crabs in swirled shells
Poke their sharp legs out
And the anemones
Let loose their hair.
The birds run up and back,
A living of cowards, Keystone fowls.


It was a one time thing,
Lying on the bowsprit
Drunk and not suspecting.
Before I knew it,
The curtain of heaven slipped open
And a woman who looked like me
Then wrapped the whole sky
And earth around us.

Set back, I saw
That the stars had shifted.
Everyone was sleeping
Everywhere on the ship,
So I took the wheel
And looked hard again at the sky.

I am the Man Walking in the Snow

I am the man walking in the snow
Along the tracks
Where the frozen boxcars are stored.
The dog lunges greedily ahead
And each sound is crisp and clear.

The cat hides nervously under the couch
At home where my new baby cries.
Her minute hands clench flowers of air;
Held out, brought in, and let loose
With loud, short puffs of life.

The darkness of midnight
Does not dim this world that is white
As I am the man who has seen
That change is constant
In the numbing cold winter,
In the sunlit dreams of summer,
In this wheel of living.

From now on…

Words will not stop in my mouth.
I will not stand still.
Home is everywhere.

From now on…
The doors I enter will be clearly marked.
I will cast my vote in the massive question of time.
Life is what I make it.

From now on…
The sun that goes in my eye is a reflection of the renewable spirit.
It doesn’t matter who’s in charge.
There is no more waiting.

Air pushes into my lungs without debt.
All shifts are covered. Every bill is paid.
No children are missing.

From now on…
Music is breath.
Laughter is liquor
And whispers are dessert.