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Fred Schmalz

about Fred’s Dream

When I was nine and my brother was 13 we shared a bedroom and we’d get bored and decide to have boxing matches. I’d get a pair of kneepads for my fists and my brother would get one kneepad. The Rules were simple: I was allowed to whale away at will. He was allowed one punch. All my pecking and jabbing and dancing around would end abruptly whenever he chose to swing. There’s a simple, bottomless question about writing the short poem… how do I allow a poem to be short – not over-write it, not go on when the poem is really the kernel, not spend three stanzas getting to the “real start” – without it coming out sounding slight? It seems a kind of risk, and the poem either IS or IS NOT. It’s a form of one-punch fight. These poems begin with quotes… words or phrases I collect from various sources and use as starting points. “Evidence” and “Think of One” are titles of Thelonious Monk compositions. “Listen and Repeat” I recall from recordings our teacher would play in seventh grade French class. “Fred, so help me…” was repeated by my mother ad nauseum from my birth until I turned eighteen and she gave up. “Closer to you is closer to the door” is from a poem by Brian Blanchfield. I take these quotes and try to find one idea to explore in each of them. For instance in “Evidence,” the idea I started with was that narrative is built from happenings. Nothing too complicated. I’m trying to be as economical as possible. It’s a lesson I took from my brother.



from Fred’s Dream


Somebody leans from a low bed

to peer through a blind, or bully

a locked door unlocked.

From these actions, a story emerges:

I slam a door and a mirror

falls off the opposite wall,

I keep my castle full with radios,

absorb a soaking new year’s storm

and slowly return to dry,

this water-filled air mattress beneath me.


“Listen and repeat”

In the provision for chance

all the music happens.

A lady’s pair of shoes click

in the courtyard. She drops

wine bottles in a rubber tub.

We reach our hands out,

not to stop her

but to grace the act.


“Closer to you is closer to the door”

In a glass booth I hold my hand

Before a candle and its warmth wraps around me.

A twist is simple. A body

Given hands is not simple.

To be above water and swimming at once–

lifted from the ground and running.


“Fred, so help me…”

I am over here and you are part of a distant

conversation, you are going to cry and you don’t know it.

Nobody knows better

this calculus to loneliness:

we are invisible to those who may harm us.

Each of us daring the first to step

and nobody moving a muscle.


“Think of one”


Lug a box across town

laden to rupturing with musk melons.

Your nervous system incorporates

limp into a form of walk

you are on your way, you tell yourself.

Your feet carry on like gossip,

to a kitchen blender: enter

fruit, ice, milk. Think of one

once tasted. Her? Yes, her.

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