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Featured Reader

Johanna Ely

Virtual Event on April 9th, 2024–6:00 P.M to 8:00 P.M.

Live stream will be available on our YouTube Channel at the time of the event!

Austin Smith

Austin Smith is the author of two poetry collections, Flyover Country and Almanac. He has received the Wallace Stegner fellowship in fiction at Stanford, an NEA fellowship in prose, and the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship in poetry. He teaches undergraduate creative writing as a Jones Lecturer at Stanford, and lives in San Francisco.

Ode to Flour

I was feeling down and wanted to praise
Something harmless, something we don’t
Necessarily need, but that I’m glad
We have, and I lit just now upon flour.

I suppose flour could be harmful if
You don’t eat wheat, but let’s assume
You do. Think: where did your mother
Keep the flour when you were a child,

Or your father? Perhaps it was your father
Who did the baking. Maybe neither
Your mother nor your father baked
But they still kept some flour around,

Leftover from Christmas, or because
A neighbor had brought some over,
Though why a neighbor would bring
Flour over and then leave without it,

I don’t know. Anyway you can tell
I want there to have been flour
In your childhood kitchen, in a paper bag
That gave off a little gasp of powder

Every time it was opened, which wasn’t often.
On the side of the bag, a girl in a dress
Tiptoeing amongst hens, a wicker basket
On her arm and it was understood

She was bringing bread to the sick
And poor. Or maybe your family stored
The flour in a glass jar with a wire lid
That latched, or in a stoneware canister

With the word FLOUR painted in blue
Cursive on the side. Wherever it was,
Maybe you reached your hand inside
Every now and then to wonder

At how something so dry could feel
So cool that it felt damp. Or maybe
This is the wrong poem for you.
Maybe you loved salt.

The Mechanic

Bob, we bring you cars that won’t turn over,
Batteries bleeding blue out of their ears,
Radiators that radiate nothing.
Like Shakespeare’s and then Auden’s dyer’s hand,
Yours is blackened by your art. You may change
Oil but you yourself will never change.
Your sons and daughters gladly drive the ones
You pronounced dead, but you weren’t lying.
Under your calm hands they came back to life.
Not all of them. The definitely dead
You dragged off into the woods, out of sight
Of any sheriff who might happen by.
In lieu of you, green saplings lift the hoods.
Grass vaults out of the crumbling foam seats.
Even the wrecks the county brings to you
Undergo a kind of resurrection.
Then it’s as if the woods go joyriding.
When they bury you, they will bury you
With a few tools, in case you find one of
God’s chariots broken down outside heaven.


“In a box a lady with diamonds in her earrings, their light changing almost uninterruptedly.”

Kafka’s Diaries

Where are those earrings now? Not
In her ears, surely, the lobes
So long ago rotted away. Or maybe
They were her favorite pair
And they buried her wearing them,
Fallen now to either side of her skull.
More likely they’re in a safety deposit box
In a bank in Lucerne. Maybe a girl
Who works there takes them
Out from time to time — they trust her,
They’ve given her all the keys —
And puts them in her ears, concealing them
Under her voluminous blonde hair
That darkens in winter. So she
Who makes next to nothing to
Care for the immense wealth of others
Gets to imagine that
She is sitting in a box at the symphony.
Down below, in the cheap seats,
A man has turned to stare up at her.
With his dark eyes he looks like a man
Who will die soon. But not until then
Will he forget her, the diamonds in her ears
Brilliant with a light with which
No darkness, no matter
How profound, can interfere.

Two Kittens

She brought the man
Two kittens
That he would not
Be lonely
What with winter
Thought surely
He could keep
Two kittens alive
But when
She went back to see
How he was making out
He seemed not to
They were dead
They’re so sweet
He said
But won’t eat


His cathedral like a novel
In which everything is
So minutely described
Not even an hour will pass
In seven hundred pages.
His cathedral a young woman
On acid trying to explain how, how…
Children especially love it.
It has to do with colors familiar
From cartoons and the fact
That it is unfinished like everything
In the imagination is.
Guadi himself was almost unknown.
No one could remember
Who gave him permission to build it.
He walked to work amongst men
Paid to sweep the streets clean
With long brooms and old women
On their way to morning mass.
The women frowned at his monstrosity,
Crossing themselves as
They crossed the street,
As if to so much as glance at
It might doom them
To excess, when the wine
They’d always drunk
Was rough stuff but good enough.
One day, crossing the other way,
Distracted by a problem with the spires,
He was struck down by a streetcar.
No one recognized him.
He died in the poverty ward.
They kept working on his cathedral.
They still are.
I heard an American college girl
Tell her friends that
She wanted to go to the Sangria Familia.
She said it seriously.
It wasn’t a pun.
So what if she said it wrong?
Of all the places to go,
She wanted to go there.
And so what if, standing inside it,
Her bare American shoulders
Bathed in Nickelodeon light,
She still didn’t believe in God?
She must have believed
Someone must have.