a) A stork flies over the lake, dropping a baby to a woman paddling a canoe. She catches it like a touchdown, but her oars slip into the water, and are lost.

1. Sometimes I feel like riding a steamroller over the graves, over the monuments, over the trophy cases. Compared to the river cutting the mountain in half, we flow only one way, too. Me and you, mountains and rivers all the live long day.

b) The moon could be our trampoline behind closed doors. So the door is shut. But then the room gets dark.

2. Lava cools quietly into ashen rock. A cup of tea balanced on a headstone. Life explodes like a propane tank shot with a hollow tip bullet, or peters out like a man swimming into fog until he sinks for good. Sometimes I feel like a shadow doing pull-ups on a tree inside a cemetery.

c) Luck knocks on the window. The window slides open. Luck climbs into the house. Luck climbs inside your mouth as you sleep—you eat Luck and don’t know. The average person eats seven spiders a year as they sleep. But, you have also eaten Luck.

3. Heroes return shopping carts to cart corrals, or leave caligrophied notes on parked cars, “Backed into you drunk, had to flee the scene, can pay you in marijuana: call this number any time after 3pm, I sleep in.” None of us will become bronzed statues. That trend is lost to time.

d) Snow slides off the roof and splats on gasoline flowers. On sleeping rhinos. On pallbearers pretending to be soldiers. Sometimes I feel guilty for willingly doing nothing on a perfect day.

4. Sometimes I feel like I’d enjoy a car crash in the middle of the church yard. God and the Devil having a demolition derby, goggles and flowing scarves, driving gloves. The police might arrive like they’re there to collect a Cracker Jack prize. Compared to my dreams, my hopes are made of tissue paper.

e) Death eats a ham sandwich with pickles and mustard and smiles; there are bean sprouts too, green and glowing, stuck in Death’s teeth. Just so you know.

5. The kid from the beginning of the poem grows up and climbs a mountain on prime time TV. Sometimes I’m happiest when I shouldn’t be. The oars that have slipped, sink farther into the mud. The mother dons her scuba gear in the moonlight, wades out in search.


BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Vintage, 2022), among others.

One response to “Take a Penny, Leave a Penny”

  1. Aaron Dietz says:

    Excellent poem. Lovely.

    But please, TV Producers, do not make a mountain climbing reality show.

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