firstpoem What the Weather’s Like, Only Stranger (A tribute-remix of Leesa Cross-Smith’s short story, “Is That Rain”)

You’re okay. Halfway fine. The night before? Leftovers. Ashtray, open bottle. Outside, beyond the porch, parched grass like yellow streaks in the window, and clouds shaped like a question drag in the sky: Are we rain?

Your dry mouth feels too pink. Muscle under his brown skin too tight in a heap on your sofa. He sleep scratches a naked thigh. When he wakes, he’ll ask it too.

You’ll act like you don’t hear. His dusty eyes will ask all morning long.

Over a cereal bowl at your kitchen table. Over the top of your head when he pulls on a shirt. You’ll look at a floor that needs sweeping, hear his voice like a radio song—half listening, half waiting for what comes next.

You could trail the red stain back to his jagged glass mouth. You could welcome again the machine of his hot pulse.

Or, he’s leaving. You, silent as morning crickets.

The doorframe shudders after him and you’re alone, half dry slice of lime squeezed in half a glass of Cuervo Gold. Bugs start to whirl around the backyard.

Something’s blooming, blooming black and grey and rumbling from far off like one of those Old Testament stories, something undressed and hard. You stand by the window and sip. Part your lips so it can find you. You pull up your hair and wait.




Sheep, but No Shepherds

When They Landed in the Trees at Night

They hung there like stubborn thoughts, glowing pomegranate red, like paper lanterns we’d seen in the movies. We heard inside them what may as well have been Japanese.

Mosquitoes and moths made contact first. Flashes, and little yellow dust clouds.

It was Claudia who braved an approach. The rest of us snuck peeks between kid fingers. Something happened, and the dog froze, staring, and we all hushed ourselves, lifting fingertips like to touch a warm, lost face, our eyes on fire.

They Laugh When They Come

Installing offices and escalators and cameras every-which-where. Lenses in birch and poplar. Microphones sewn right in your ties. Corporate assurances. Consolations.

We’re in a wonderful, magical mood—just like you!

I hear the news at lunch, Monsanto Pig ® and fries. Learn everything I need to know. At first, their memories seem atrocious, and they are easily fooled. They break down. Sunlight bounces off of them like marbles. They are exactly six feet tall. Magic dogs circle and snarl.

But they’ve got unlimited growth potential—because, dear Ann, they dream.

I knew it at lunch. P.K. Dick was right, Kurzweil, too, way the hell back in ‘99. Gibson got night shakes when he heard them coming, had to write it down. Now they neatly eat sandwiches with us, try to wink. Scratch at gummy skin, only without the itch.

My sister takes a pistol in her purse to the grocery store. Annie goes down blazing.

I Remember Somewhere in California, Magic Dogs and Trees

Recall as a child, flying dachshunds, vanishing shelties! My English-thinking Australian shepherd, Fiona, my Fi, my Wonder Dog. Fi and I, see, we get each other, we understand: the bone-yard samba of Dad’s glides in and out the sliding glass door, to and from the patio and a puffing barbeque grill, huffing through the Mom’s chain-smoke pirouettes, waving off tell-tale ash of the kill.

How we loved the show. Fiona sawing Mom and Dad in half! Me, cheering!

Big sister Annie cries and cries for a pony, a pony! And I said to myself, No, wait, that’s not what you want. You aren’t her! Annie isn’t herself, said I, Fiona’s brown eyes distempered knives of agreement. I knew I was mostly me most of the time back then. When Annie spied replica pups tugging on grass, up the tree house module she climbed, a hidden, leafy sway in teary night. There she stayed in stars, wailing and praying against the algorithmic shifts in winds below.

How she despised the show. Looking down on us halflings. Her, sneering.

Years later a dappled pony wandered mechanically into our yard, long after Mom and Dad were called back to be perfected. Fiona barked up the branches of sister’s sleeping tree, but Annie refused to speak—instead, poked a rifle barrel out a tiny window, and then the dead thud of pony.

Science Dog-Piles Philosophy

People willingly devolve. Millions upon millions upon millions, and in the direction of light. Artificial light from the ground. Saturated artificial light in neutron-heavy blooms.

They will not lose their hands, but the ears. They will not lose their tongues, but the nose. Eyes in sockets look into skulls. Can see only red-green messages.

What shall proper understanding be? Messages are: currents, or dreams, or feeds?

Fiona barks, is erased. Shepherds now discontinued.

Identical reports from Lisbon and Santa Barbara. Portuguese no longer initiates message vibration; children hear English in the certainty of blindness. Machine hum has been paid for through the end of the month, so there will be birds—perhaps pigeons or jays, or crows. Sparrows? Maintenance says Yes Tomorrow.

Surfaces may not be touched without financial office clearance. Still, there’s a feeling. Faint, warm traces. Yearning for orange peels, naked bodies, names like melodies … Claudia, who was someone.

Red message incoming: You, temporarily offline, under discontinuance review.

*This poem originally appeared in the printed pages of burntdistrict.


About the Author: Michael Dwayne Smith has two full-length books in the bullpen: a poetry collection in collaboration with surrealist comic artist Evan R. Spears, Happy Good Time News (Devils Hole Press), and a collection of hybrid poetry/prose, What the Weather's Like, Only Stranger (looking for new publisher since original deal fell out... hint hint). Post-hippie professor and editor-in-chief of Mojave River Press & Review, he's been awarded both the Hinderaker Prize for poetry and the Polonsky Prize for fiction. His work appears in excellent journals like burntdistrictWord RiotStone Highway ReviewdecomP>kill author, and the Cortland Review. He lives near a ghost town in the Mojave Desert with his wife and rescued animals.

Poem Songs: "Pressure" by Quadron & "Hunter" by Björk

About the Photographer: Elisabeth Cox has been making art since she was old enough to sneak crayons into her bed during naptime. Though a Seattle native, she currently lives with her two cats and works from her home in Champaign, IL. You can find her geography art at