Poems by Michael G. Smith



During the fall of 2019 Michael G. Smith was a writing resident at Gullkistan Center for Creativity (http://gullkistan.is/). Gullkistan is located in the Icelandic village of Laugarvatn on the western shore of Laugarvatn Lake with a view of the active volcano Hekla. Michael drafted the following poems during his residency. They are part of a longer manuscript he is working into a book. He hopes that the book would present an embedded foreigner’s experience of Iceland atypical to expectations, and concomitantly provide a window into how Iceland’s dynamic landscape informs his life experience.


Reykjavik Hostel List Poem

after bar hopping
the London psychology
student and I trade
navigating Kathmandu traffic
and monastery stories
in the quad bedroom
we share
as I sip green tea
the Prague woman
cooking rigatoni
in the communal kitchen
stirring the noodles
bobbing up and
down like glacial chips
swimming in the lagoon
at Jökulsárlón
asks if I’ll show her
a wolverine
if she comes to Montana
though I have never
seen one myself
after the Hindu from Bangalore
who mastered structural
engineering at UCLA
and I compare
California’s faults
I tell him about golden leaves
falling from the bodhi tree
while meditating
at the Great Awakening Temple
in Bodh Gaya
with monks and nuns
from most continents on Earth
volcanic Hekla dozing uneasily
above all of our horizons


Students and Teacher

Hekla backlit from the east
I flip through a history
of Iceland
Hekla the medievalists’
Gateway to Hell
Laugarvatn’s sulfurous fragrance
not the devil’s doing
what does anyone
know about Heaven and Hell?
no dinosaur fossils found
in Iceland’s eighteen
million-year-old rocky layers
whooper swans lift
off the lake
a moment before
a bevy of rain-slickered
school children
in groups of threes and fours
jostle past the windows
one with a lengthwise crack
their ponchoed teacher
who doubles as a host
at the hot springs spa
waving at me


Chord Tangent Secant Take Two

after a week
reading my poems
taped to the wall
out loud
the artist asks
what does
chord tangent secant
I say
tidal river
she looks at me
I say
my Chinese elm bonsai
yellows old leaves
she says, so
are you pointing
towards the future?
I say
because the activity
of writing poems
is useless
I can relax
into it
she laughs
and says
yes? say more
I say
yeah, shackled
by the circular self
we are blessed
with nothing
but possibility
always a drip or two away
from completion


A Lonely American Writer is Counseled

daylight shortening
creeps in again
and as is my way
I search for a village cafe
to drink coffee
before dawn
and write poems
only to find myself
escorted by the teacher
cum spa host
to Heradsskolin Guest House
former school now
hostel yoga studio bistro
she shows me the library
Optics and Their Applications
Thurber and Cather peering
from bookshelves
the lake view from
the café tables’ windows
a waist-high radio
tunable to Rome
and universal analog
calibrated voltmeters
zeroed out
for accurate readings
Fox Trot by Joe Lobb
and His Orchestra
waiting to spin
on its metal platter
she cranks
a Columbia Grafonala
and says a quick dance
before work but first
Halldór Laxness wrote
parts of Independent People
within these warm walls
an abode his protagonist
farmer and sheep herder
Bjartur of Summerhouses
could not imagine
or afford



viewed from a
certain altitude
incomplete Iceland
an asymmetrical circle
fractally growing
and gnawing
lives viewed as uneven
their beginning
and endpoints
requiring selfless help
gusts rocking
the old hostel
in seaside Vik
latches broken
its windows
these thoughts
maybe fears
wake me
my enso
always a drip or two away
from completion


About the Author

Michael G. Smith is a chemist. His poems have been published in many literary journals. His books include No Small Things; The Dippers Do Their Part, a collaboration with Laura Young of haibun and katagami from their Shotpouch Cabin residency; and Flip Flop, a collection of haiku co-written with Miriam Sagan. His poem Disturbance Theory. Glacier was selected to be photographed and displayed in Antarctica by the Antarctic Poetry Exhibition (https://www.antarcticpoetry.com/) in early 2021.