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May 13, 2019 / barton smock

{ I, II (no)(avail) }


Ghost Arson
Barton Smock
(Kung Fu Treachery Press, 2018)

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Barton Smock
5155 Hatfield Drive
Columbus, OH 43232

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at barnes & noble:

interview by Crystal Stone for Flyway Journal:

poet and author George Salis, on:

“…Smock is conscious of language, of the power of a few words, or few words, and his mostly minimalist poems have the ability to evoke endless dreamscapes. The infinite from the finite, another paradox from paradoxical poems, poems that are like alternate or anti-paracosms. For example, here is one titled “Mooon.”

moan, fossil. how do my feet look in my mother’s belly?
my heart is a pink flame / is my father’s / fingernail.
father calls me antler. I don’t know this yet. I will be

by many hands.

By simply including an extra ‘o’ in the word ‘moon,’ elongating what Sir Richard Burton called the “corpse upon the road of night,” Smock conjures a wolf’s howl, a cow’s lament, creatures of childhood’s imagination and myth. And then we are given the juxtaposition, the amalgamation of vestigial past and fetal future and beyond, to the (moon) shot of doctors? adulators? murderers? An unborn heart metamorphosing from flame to fingernail, or existing as both simultaneously, like Schrödinger’s cat, until postnatal wave collapse. The phrase “father calls me antler” tells a story in and of itself, a mysterious nickname/endearment/joke/snide….

Considering Ghost Arson as a collection, there are obsessions or at least repetitions: owls, milk, ghosts, etc. The pinnacle obsession being god in all forms and personalities (“you picture god as a toddler studying a map” or “the airway of a god with a tail”), the word itself repeated nearly to the point of semantic satiation, a term coined by Leon Jakobovits James, who also suggested that the phenomenon could be employed to ameliorate phobias. Consciously or not, perhaps Smock is attempting to exorcise a theophobia. Conversely, the recurrence could be a mantra reverberating across poems.”




I ain’t been talked to in so long my wife’s kid thinks I have amnesia. ain’t been touched since Ohio’s ramshackle symbolism swallowed up some organ donor’s shadow. I went yesterday to a funeral for a woman’s ear. told people what I was wearing was a bedsheet belonged to the man in the moon. told myself I had this microscope could see a ghost and that I’ve only ever lost an empty house. I don’t know how old I am but I know what year I want it to be. before dying I saw it flash how I should have died. low creature. tugboat.


father an optometrist inspecting a replica of a totem pole and mother an eel collapsing at the thought of a play performed in a stone.

and there, at the bottom of grief, a cup of dirt with nothing to bury.


mother is chewing gum like something fell asleep in my mouth. I say dog for both dog and puppy. pray for things I know will happen. a rooster through a windshield. a dried-up toad in a deep footprint.


mother and father give their word that all narrators are orphans. that blood is a short leash. sometimes, a fence. be, they say, the symbol your god remembers you by. tell your brother to act like a chicken. your stickmen to share a toothache.


I saw a cigarette with its mouth open. today was hard. hate is amazing.

god will die with his ear on my stomach.


the darkness has many stomachs and we’ve no one to tell my son he’s lonely.

seller of the disappearing stone, the mouth names everything and is born after eating a blindfold.


for desperation, boy puts a bird in a hand puppet. here a finger and there a worm, sadness has no family. oh fetus my moth of many colors. oh mosquito that bit an angel. time with my son

in scenario’s territory.



(god is someone’s calendar


(a girl with a marble who answers to overdose


(rooster ghosted by elevator


(in my years with the poor, I wrote nothing down


(the scalp will baby its grief


on muscle detail, the clapping boy from the cult of thunder brings a wheelchair to the last rocking horse known to model swimwear for the few dolls that remain married to the same mask. the boy is weak but maybe he puts two words together. like ghost

and exodus. for the second coming of the handcuffed animal.


the boy picking flowers for my shadow loves no one. everything I touch remembers being my hand. the world has ended, or started early. god’s heartbeat. sound’s watermark.


because her son can see the future, she is not yet born. god matters to the discovered.


overtook no cigarette. surprised no sleep. keyed the car

of a minor

radar is getting possessive.


for the gone and for the nearly, brother has the same stick.

I call belly
what he calls
what answers
to limb


to speak
it needs gum
from the invisible

comes with everything. cries like me.


she says
three times
the word
to her stomach’s
and scores
sight’s wardrobe
of rags
in earworm’s


there’s a comb
in my narrative, a goldfish

coming to
in a beheaded



god bless the hypnotist who takes up smoking when it goes uncured (my transformative stutter…

god bless the breathing machine, the fog…

the donkey so beaten it recalls itself as a whale’s untouchable nose…

and god bless god for my short life as a father, for my son who says, meaning eyelash (cyclops…


it’s not my imagination that I’m the only foreigner my body recalls, but is that god can change with my stomach the shape of his tears


waiting for her cigarettes to dry, mother starts a bath and says above them that it’s not like any of you are becoming a rib. death, short a person, continues to eat the language god hasn’t. trauma makes a compass of time and place

and brother is not yet the sitting creature of a thoughtless life. I am not there but am allowed to be. I so miss birds.

(the ghost fame of each tadpole


a shadow’s private gravity (a fly on a grieving radar


the boy whose clothes have been taken will swim for hours and for hours know why the soul hides death from god


do they not


ear to ear, the toddlers…

their tornado
still theirs, and today’s

still in the mind
of their mother’s
who is having a thought
as rare

as his past, of a god

from a cobweb
a carcass

and deciding


apparition, or mom
at her most forgetful.

mouth, a shapeshifter’s
chew toy
as a belly button
and babied
by grief.

face, face.


tell me again
how it is
that dream
tooth decay
in angels / why it is

that I can hear
in the darkroom
the ghost

of weeping

/ when it was they found the suckling

and not the bones
of a wave


not uncommon in a household of grief

for one
to be bad
with names.

(the radio
an animal
that misses
its bones


I would ask that you name
your dog
is not
a teacher (then love a longer kitten

(like an angel
an ashtray, more

like your mother

a thing on its way
to being

(or shaped


I eat more in your absence than you do in mine. our animals never meet. I’ve a painting and you’ve a picture of eve reaching for an aspirin. an angel is a ghost on fire.


pushed a lawnmower. jumped on a trampoline. ate with symbolism the freer meals. painted for death what death could sell to a mirror. accused my hair of arson.


before an astronaut can miss a tooth

I see my mother

her face
in a cobweb


every smoker
a grocery cart
for a six-
fingered ghost


all children come from god

(the theatrical


there are ways to be happy. you can say priestess and watch your father’s cigarette slip in and out of sleep. you can crush a pill for the dog that’s begun to move like the rabbit it died chasing. you can lick the spoon the mirror’s



father likes to say that touch has lost its mind. mother

be like hunger
and forget

(the boy is the boy who teaches death
to read
and I am sad
for death
for years

(in the toy aisle, in a circus
restroom, at the roll

of my son’s
eye, and at the gate

of the all

(also shyly

in the more traditional
of god

(their hesitant


in those moments when non-fiction scares only the grey brainchild of poverty

(that fucking angel disrobing a stone with fog…

please read
to feel


how long
for being god
should god
be punished

to how many mothers have you reappeared

are these
the pebbles

fingerprint and footfall

(have they been


match your mouth to its bowl
and lift the bowl

it is very light
be as with
a beaten
angel (careful

lullaby baby out of its hair
hold me (like death

as you’ve seen
a brain

(does it look
in places
like a ransom

the skin
god hasn’t


the relationships you have with my body
and the relationships

(if there’s a god
then why

(a son this ill

an angel
with paperbacks (is this


or a gift shop where none have prayed


a dog-tamer by day, he’d lose at night his stomach’s paw to a sleepy hand. not there to feed anything, I’d set anyway a fishbowl down for a rocking horse. sometimes a woman would shock me with her finger then put on her shoes. then leave or not exist.


being earlier drawn to a pilot’s imperfect nostalgia,

a hypothetical form
goes online
to cry…

(eyesight is sorrow’s smallest garden
(a whole

for the errors
of fiction


a shirtless child sets my food on fire. I want to cut myself but part of me is still teaching god air guitar in an outhouse. stun gun. riding mower. I learn how to point and bulimia

is the ghost


mother, in goodbye, means goodbye.


there is
oh sin

a firefly

in my grief.

& the eater of chalk has the body of god.


look long enough
at a bird
it becomes
a bird.

a boy

both arms


sheep because sheep looks as if it’s waiting for an angel to have a thought and sheep because the saying of sheep guides the mouth into silence and sheep because if you close one eye in church

the circle my son draws looks like a fish

and circle because I made for it a church and church because he once saw a rabbit that wasn’t and a stomach that was and the two of you

we could not lift


the abusive baby
with its crying (or

the blue

with its bruising
thirst (will turn

the knob (the clock

of the door


years later and I can’t convince my brother he’s been shot. he wants to be naked all the time. one day he wakes up with four legs and another with two he’s forgotten. he doesn’t draw but claims the things he draws can’t sleep. mourn god, he says. he says he can’t see me when I wash his clothes. so I wash his clothes.



every stick I throw

a ghost
of my grandfather’s

I don’t throw many
it is not a sight
to see

not some cow nudging awake the weakest deer

not pipe tobacco, not smoke, not that spider
from an injured

not a small child
a dog even

trying to use
a spoon


god’s been gone nine months and all this talk he’s done of being stabbed in a dollhouse struggles to fill a baby

(do animals have songs

do they know

to miss
missing (leave the bragging

to grief


handstands and loneliness- what infantile reactions we have to existence. I want to eat

but how will they know there was nothing here (this finger

once a rib in the back of your throat


my son knows his birds by the hands he draws for them. anatomy is perhaps what you make it. grey bruise, blue tongue…

this dream goes nowhere. hell, these chickens

(as if their god was struck by a ghost


this body was never a child

(& birth a spoon
bent to the little

I long


father cuts my hair as something gentle he can do underwater. he’s broken the bowl that caught his mother’s mouth. we have our mirrors and you your nets. I am the last of his one-eared boys.


his cigarette going bald, father prepares his food while we touch ours. god swims long enough to miss wind. if there are two babies in the same room, they switch cribs but not teeth. god is a time-traveler selling nostalgia. I can never remember which of mother’s ears is insect and which is litmus. it’s always the second meal

comes from heaven


I want to be loved so badly that I promise your raccoon the sea. dying means:

my boy falls asleep drinking from a toy boat. god has no friends but even better

my mother has one was born

without a birthday. can an angel

do this? says ghost.

(grief is a thing taught to breathe by its stomach


it’s dark and all of us are in the wrong stone.

the floor is clean where I learned my shapes.


I cut the pills
in advance. (love

that no matter
the day, there are three

god spent
with his son.



for tire
swing (mother

sells chalk
to a ghost


I didn’t miss god or think I was ugly. had mud enough
to make
from memory

the scarecrow’s
stomach. I ate my brothers

they ate
me back. any loss

became a hole
in a snake, any needle

a worshiped


think of wind as a thing that’s mastered its nothingness.

the unfinished.

yes think, then cradle.

hands shape their own leaving.


I wait in the outhouse to hear the ghost of my brother speak.

to him

is grief gets a puppy, spider
a tail

(in the story of the fish
that wanted
to pray


mom says she ain’t had a dream since trying to bring jesus there to hear her poem about the fetus and the bookmark as found in her collection (a warning describes home to a crow


because in an insect, terror has no room to grow. because I can count on a handprint the number of times you thought me from nothing. because my daughter does a somersault and thinks she’s pregnant. because god worships the storm for its light touch. because I can’t sing. because when I do, my mother knows where I am. because on all-fours I call my blood to bathe me in its blue past. because loss eats its plate. because I brush my teeth over a circle my son will make in dirt. because his ghost mans a ferris wheel he refers to as piggyback. because my father can forgive a shape and I cannot a poem.


I wore
to bed
a dog’s
and in
the dream
broke your leg
on mine
do you remember
being spanked
the ant
on your cheek
than a stick

(I think
he put
my hand
in a hand
with growing (there is

the star I sleep under

the toothache


god is the word food spells in my mouth.

you have to be this tall
to be hungry.

(there is a ghost looking for its rock collection)

our absence
unheard of


up at this hour
with my thumb
in my mouth…

than mine
your missing

the spider

it’s thrown itself on a drop of blood


I’m here, says the soul.

the body will need me
when you’re gone.


I find my hands wrapped in yours in a field we call rifle. you’re vomiting in a dream and your son is asking

(is a shadow a boat that’s been killed


if caught

sickness will erase the body’s memory of dying.


will make
from god
a trapped


to report
of uncommon


to estimate



you’re getting better but birth is still a joke that grief gets wrong. that luck forgets. dog is too old to look at the animal it younger replaced. care is mostly silent. a cricket in a cake. my tiny saw.



you think
you might
be art. her mastering

of his blindspot
for imagery…

(every rock you throw is a bird that can’t breathe


sons says he falls asleep reading to his teeth. son whose size has gone to confess.


oh son

god’s hand
through a wall. a fingernail

on my tongue (rib

in luck’s


I don’t have time
to be smart
but everyone
in this movie
thinks a snowglobe
is a moth
on fire

for years I thought the pain I was eating came to my mouth in a dream

argument for there is: were it otherwise,
we’d both be the child of two rotting forms

argument for there is no: a country dog
nodding headcounts
to a family
of sticks


about the birdhouse
dad found
in a church-

I ask
the wrong

is your son a mouse

on a star?

our blood
wants to pray


the worst advice that hunger gives is to dream of eating.

let your mail tell you where to live.

let there be
in god’s mouth

a bread crumb dressed as a fingerprint.

the shape of this stone makes me worried for symbols.



(a form
of abuse




(the cowbell of grief


(there is a boy
for every




(they caught the person who was painting our baby blue


smoking over the empty crib, he calls anything that’s crawled on me the lost hand of god. I don’t care if you’re alone. for the skydiver (whose thoughts on crucifixion


if presence

be a nakedness
by nostalgia
and by
homage, then presence

a milk
in memory
of shape

or shape
oh shape

would-be astronaut

your head
is too small
(but oh how light

the gun you make
of your hand

I am not as alone as I remember

or only
our only


(the belly-dancer’s


I know it happened slowly-

his private
of every

a leaf in the mouth
of his jesus-on-the-cross.

that aggressive dove.


what is hunger but looking at the shape your mouth didn’t bring? what is the past, the present, the future

but glue stick, puberty, grief

god but the nothing

my hair
does at night


rabbit’s wheelchair

to re

the half
of loss, god

on the length

of her flight



while jumping
on those
not postponed
by thunder


nostalgia no longer has a church

if these are your children, I’ve lost years keeping them away from bugs

like her, I’ve never seen her starvations touch

it’s like waiting for god to donate hair


I hate baseball but enjoy covering my left hand.

oh pearl
of birth


a painting of your whereabouts. the popcorn stoning of your first wheelchair. soft edits. pentagram. spider.

the look of a thing that wants no hands.


eating for the child lost by ghost, you are the second of three people who know god’s middle name. oh how I’ve written to avoid reading. to impress death.

a babysitter’s tattoo. the bird-sleep of ache.


she is cooking with the father of an ex-lover a meal for someone who’s just had surgery. god is there but might as well be listening for thunder. she hopes the dream is not a big deal.


god twisted her ankle on a toy phone while thinking of the child you love least. mother was passing for an underwater attraction based on the inherited imagery of oblivious angels. photo credit had been done to death.


an aversion to sleeping on my stomach. needing to be alone after eating in front of people. my father asking in the library for books on Nagasaki. field trips to indian mounds where bullies would worship my retainer and put mud in my mouth. my permissive mother and her essays on the grief of a social god. not understanding how in some films there were women speaking on what was heard in the distance and how in others just men sitting around to surprise satan. my brother threatening to run away and me showing him how my ghost would look breaking his toys. sticks from a dogless future.


Q: what is a ghost?

A: you have a mom and god finds out


you have to count them quickly

the bite-marks on my son’s arm

either you touch a goldfish
or become
a dentist

does it matter whose dream
my mouth is

make art and make it empty. god has run out of room.


it gave me nightmares, from mating call to church bell, that air conditioner in our third floor window. thematically, the poor are closer to death. my people don’t move. god is where you left him. god where I put.


as you do not struggle to recall the titles of those empty sermons we composed while biking uphill after our sister’s head, I tell you that a baby eats like jesus in a haunted house and that dad was right the lawnmower dies because it knows where in the yard his mom was deep enough to bury doll and I deny that hibernation is real

(is more a ghost started by two wise men dressed as animals


boomerang or pop-gun, grief makes its choice. your father hides his blurry hand might god invent scissors. there is a model of your city and some leftover glue.


eating before surgery, the child is like a dream cut short by a violence that promotes longing


you are not allowed in the barn where underway is a puppet show for which your father dreams. instead of holding your breath, you are catching grasshoppers and keeping them for an amount of time your sick sister would call ridiculous. you are too young to know, but know anyway, that your dentist prefers the rhythm method. I am sorry for the things you know. for our hearing of this riddle mistaken for language and for any mouth openly tricked into being small. space is not lonely but we were wrong to change our poems.


who better to orphan the cyclops than she whose other possession is a neglected baby breathing on its own in the flawlessly managed absence of god

too old now for baptismal abandon, my dreams eat the pigs that Dorothy touched


as hunger’s sole worry is that revenge has no one, I do not reply when the boy gets an erection so painful that he says he can see me sleeping in his past. what does your stomach know of mine? to believe in beauty is to let blood do all the work.


it’s midnight and our mail carrier is trying to recall aloud a proverb in a language she doesn’t know. her hound, barefoot and dressmaker, has two names. she wants to smoke but can’t bring herself to imagine god’s forgotten thumb. her tv is on and I watch it as if dreaming was always a sin.


it skips our father like a language the meal she pulls from her tinfoil purse and god he stops at the roof of my mouth and brother short of beheading an egg…


our only comet


grief the star of my overlong nostalgia
& owl the mouth I put on god

(in dream the embedded curfew


god is just a patient creature that swallowed a lonely. did you love him? as an infant blowing kisses to a bruise. a mother born to look seen.


as written
the word
looks a thing
mid-bite, a chicken scratch
behind the ear
of a boy
by an angel
on the side
of pink, a puzzle piece
blocking the airway
of a god
with a tail, a worm
in the grey
of a swimmer
once the weigher
of nothing’s


in their hermit’s longhand they write of sobriety the unreadable grief and then subconsciously outbid god on the hamster wheel from grasshopper’s dream


years from the event of my body, we pass in the grocery. I tell your children they are attached to nothing, that my arm cast is made of fingernails, that a bruise has a shadow, and that a mouth is where a mouth goes to die. truth has no attention span. it is not my favorite dream. partly this is so because I can remember how with a grey marker I drew on my belly the easier fruits might the identified heal the recognized. (but the kids are ugly and seem to know


one thing leads to another and they call this the past. I don’t sleep because I don’t love god. son I am a barber in the body of a dentist. son loneliness is just a museum of recent prayer. there are crows I haven’t seen.

that other crows have.


we were allowed to keep any item we could draw perfectly. mothers counted cigarettes and fathers died in threes. no one had a sister but all

her hidden talent. on the hand of god, the scissors I lost…


a genetic forgetfulness
in jumpers
of rope

all the turtles
have been touched


ache as a hairstyle. teeth that pray for frostbitten squirrels. a shadow, a circle, their secret



with my body as a thing that existed from the waist-up, I became to swimming what I’d been to lightning and told my brothers that to dream they had to fall asleep before god touched his food. loneliness left its skinny tree and followed my mother into an outhouse where once her sister had counted smoke-rings and where twice they’d sung for their mouths the one about zero the forgotten letter. my father looked at me and I at my son. time waiting to create the sick.


it’s not a children’s book but does have chameleons looking for their dead. I wrote it might you remember that I’ll watch anything. my brother lifting weights while he says resurrection that lonely mouthful. horror movies to win back my abuser.


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