Vox Populi

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Michael Simms: Hammer

On East Carson Street, skinny white boys

Slump in front of tattoo parlors

Scratching their arms. Girls

In short skirts take long pulls

On cigs, stand in groups

Smiling at the men who drive by

Hungry and shy…the realm

Of the hungry ghosts the Buddha

Calls it. I don’t know anything

About anything. But I once saw

A guy hit another guy

Over the head with a chair

And a cop with thick wrists

Put handcuffs on the brawler

And haul him off. And I saw

The bartender stomp the broken chair

And throw the sticks

In a dumpster in the alley

Where a junkie was shooting

Heaven in his tattoos.


My son wasn’t any of these guys.

He was the carpenter in the bedroom

Of an empty house down the street

Nailing a one by four to a two by four

Reinforcing a stud in a wall

That’s seen better days.

His long fingers hold the nails

And he swings the hammer

From his shoulder for more force.


My son was born blue. His shoulders

Were so wide, he got caught on the slide

Into the light. Or maybe

His long dark hair got caught

In the instrument listening

To his heart. Or maybe

He just didn’t want to start

This long difficult walk

To oblivion. But whatever

The reason, I know he was stuck

In the birth canal and when

He came into the light

The midwife massaged his chest

Until he gasped. And now, when I look

At his beautiful hands

Which can drive a four-inch nail

Into a board with two wacks,

I think of his small hands

Twenty seven years ago,

Opening and closing

As he took his first breath.


I don’t know anything about Jesus

But I’m happy my son

Doesn’t live on the street anymore.

Walking down Carson Street

I saw a beaten down boy

Begging for spare change,

But it wasn’t my son. I saw

A young man hand a small bag

Through a darkened car window

And the slim hand of a woman

Pass cash to him,

But he wasn’t my son. I don’t know

Anything about Hell, but I’ve seen

A junkie sitting on the sidewalk

His knees pulled to his chin

Staring at nothing — just the feet

Of people walking by,

Trying hard not to look at him.

From American Ash by Michael Simms (Ragged Sky Press, 2020). Copyright 2020 by Michael Simms


Jose Rosado Hand Portrait

24 comments on “Michael Simms: Hammer

  1. matthewjayparker
    August 28, 2022

    This one taps the heart, like an SOS ticked out in Morse Code, proving our commonality can be simpler than the blipping dots and dashes, or the staccato four-beat timing of DNA: And an A and a G and a C and a T.


    • Vox Populi
      August 29, 2022

      Thanks, Matthew.

      The heroin epidemic continues to hit this region (Appalachia, Pittsburgh…) very hard, but we seem to be through the worst of it.



  2. loranneke
    August 31, 2020

    So deep. Such ardent love..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarah Gordon
    August 21, 2019

    What a touching poem, Mike! Thank you for this. It got to me, as we say.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. daniel r. cobb
    August 14, 2017

    Michael, nice. This is painful, and sweet. Close to home. It feels like the drug epidemic has a bullet for every one of us, one way or another.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Billy Clem
    August 13, 2017

    Oh, My God! Michael! This is  A POEM!!! THANK YOU! Who said, “No tears for the writer; no tears for the reader.”? Crying. Merci, mon ami, Billy 🙂 xo ❤  Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; it does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Toni Morrison, Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Joe Ahearn
    August 13, 2017

    Beautiful work, Michael. In particular, the rhythms are wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mel Packer
    August 13, 2017

    What a powerful poem. Thank you, Michael.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. thisisnorm
    August 13, 2017

    You know about Jesus. He was the voice in your ear telling you to save your son.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. jglasel@hvc.rr.com
    August 13, 2017

    Thank you so much Michael Simms for this sad and very beautiful poem !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. duggo1
    August 13, 2017

    Brilliant poem, Michael.

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  11. Patricia A. Nugent
    August 13, 2017

    Perhaps it’s the timing of this post, the day after the horror in NC, but I wept for every soul referenced, including the courageous author. That’s good writing. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Alexsondra Tomasulo
    August 13, 2017

    poignantly beautiful, for I too have witnessed and my heart as known the mystery of it all..

    Liked by 1 person

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