Aaron Smith is an expert at locating the spaces within spaces. In these three poems, he zeroes in on the places where doubt and possibility collide and unsettle our beliefs. They are graceful, full of humility and hard fact, and they aren’t afraid of making you laugh to yourself, or better—at yourself.—Tracy K. Smith


Mailbox Blue (Ars Poetica)

I don’t know either, Jean—
the color of the sweater
the man next to us is wearing:
red, I think, light or dark or regular
red, not pink, I do know,
but can never match object
to crimson to cerise to scarlet—red, just
red, plain red, if you ask me. Sometimes I cheat:
Mead-envelope-box red
or Irene-McKinney’s-book-cover red
or leaves-on-the-sidewalk-the-morning-he-died
and hope somebody knows
what I mean.

                         —for Jean Valentine

The Bar Closes (But You Don’t Want to Go Home)

While the man you love bites stories
                         into someone else’s back, there’s a flicker
                         in your eye only seen in late-night

television (the heroine stretching her face, half-
                         grin, half-cry), all you’ve done wrong
                         clarified in a liquidy theme song.

You say, the only party is my party, the only
                         death worth dying is the disastrous one.

                         If everything was black and white,

darling, the world would look more
                         like an afterlife, certain and grand
                         and unexplainable. But even the shoreline

against the city tonight is indecisive,
                         jagged and rocky the way desire used to be
                         before you knew enough to know it was desire.

War on Terror

The woman at the DMV wasn’t happy
when I asked if I could keep
my old driver’s license and use it
to fight terrorism. She doesn’t understand
I’m trying to do my part. Ever since
the president said we can win
the war on terror by not letting fear
stop our lives, I’ve had a new
sense of purpose for the ordinary.
Now every object is an instrument
for freedom; every action is as good
as a Support Our Troops sticker
on a minivan. Yesterday, I was buying
toilet paper at Walgreens, and I upgraded
my four-roll pack to eight because:
Take that! America Haters.
Friday in SoHo, I bought sneakers
and justice for all. I keep doing what
I usually do—returning that polo
to the Gap, putting skim milk
in my coffee—and I have to admit
I feel a whole lot safer in the airport.
Because it’s vacation season
I’m thinking of T-shirts: I Battled
Terrorism on the New River Gorge;
Florida Is for Terror-Fighters!
my absence has hope: I can’t take
your call. I’m out of the office
fighting terror.
My co-workers
have taken up the cause, too. Annie
was Xeroxing for world peace this
morning, and Jeremy’s mass mailing
is helping find weapons of mass
destruction. After lunch, we sat
by the harbor to let the terror digest
in our stomachs. Committed tourists
stood in a convoluted line to buy
tickets for the statue of liberty, which
looked small today in the distance,
under the blinding, patriotic sun.


Aaron Smith is the author of Blue on Blue Ground (Pittsburgh, 2005), winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and What’s Required (Thorngate Road, 2003), winner of the Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award. He’s a 2007 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a poetry co-editor for Bloom.

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