Prayers for the Dead Ventriloquist
In Prayers for the Dead Ventriloquist, his first collection of poems, Smith mines childhood memories—snapshots not only of family, but of a mischievous youth—with a precise poetic vision. “This harsh, particular light,” writes Dorianne Laux in her introduction to Smith’s book, “falls first on the people who pass through his small world.” Smith relates episodes of a reality unclean and unpolished, even at times horrific, yet always strangely beautiful. It is this beauty alone that offers reconciliation—the rising hair of woman in an automobile slowly consumed by flames, the metallic body of a hummingbird, the delicate bones of a lover’s back—small pleasures of day’s persistence.
The full text of D.J. Smith’s Prayers for the Dead Ventriloquist is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
Song for my Brother
Because you cannot sleep, or listen any longer
To the flies gone mad on the sill,
You edge toward the corner
Of the bed, pulling each sock on, carefully,
Without thought of the bitter wind
That rose last night, a dark
Wing over the valley. You stood
For a long time watching
The thin palms of the boulevard
Shudder and bow. And the years lost
Digging line in the desert
For the Pacific Gas and Electric
Came back to you,
How the winds there struck
With the sudden concussion of a shell.
You walk out
Under a sky, blank and sticky, laden
With odors of spring, a sky
You told me once, you saw in its entirety
In the loose eyes of a dead coyote.
Though you know it was there, in the quiet,
Unblinking face of a Laotian streetwalker
The day you struggled to leave yourself
Each day you walk a little farther
Not knowing whether you move
Away or towards.
In the dry heat of this afternoon
You drink to dignity
With the Indians and hard-core Okies
In Ray Caveros’s West Side Bar.
And as the alcohol begins its slow erasure
You hear the blood
Singing over the metal plates
In your skull, and you think,
This is not your home. It never was.
Copyright © 1995 by D.J. Smith
D.J. Smith was born in 1955 in Fresno, in the heart of California's great Central Valley, a brutal landscape which often informs his poems. He has studied with poets Peter Everwine, Corrinne Hales, Charles Hanzliceck, and Philip Levine, eventually taking an M.A. degree in Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno, in 1994. He continues to work and write in Fresno.