Between Then and Now


By Danny Smitherman



The lush, sweet and green

            Air of summer

Is certainly gone now

            From this bare and cool green of fall


When morning is only

            A small orange fire

On the western fringe

            Of the low and heavy grey clouds


Where, on a hill

            To the northwest,

A few hundred feet above Missoula

            I am breathing


I am drinking in a wet kiss

            A wind from

Sleeping Woman Peak

            Her rocky breast


And to my left,

            The south, toward the light,

A hill’s dry, gold grass

            Stands in my view

Of Lolo Peak,

            But I know what I’d see:


Her head, down to her shoulder

            Bathed in a silver grey

Shower of rain

            And snow her sparkling veil


I also know that behind me

            Down the hillside

Is a doe, a whitetail

            Almost invisible in camouflage

And brown grass


From here –

            From where I am now

I can see these things


And in between then and now

            Lies a city

Sleeping in a concrete sleep


Lights like dreams

            Blinking, winking

Off glass and dark dawn

            Winking like the eye

Of a troubled mind


A mind with eyes open

            All the way

But still twitching with instinct

            Like a cat

Blind to color and light


Coming awake like a Greek

            (Or must it be a Spartan?)

A bright blade blooming

            In his scarlet chest

In his dying on a rocky dry isthmus


Where one tear alone

            Can flood the dust

Like a river

            Or opened vein



For My Father*


“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori


“I woke to black flak and the nightmare



Or another, Father,

One that tells it for you,


Like yesterday and the

Cold, the small

Cold cockpit at bare,

Numb fingertips, young wife on

Hot heart tip, young

Children, quiet and small

Birds, blown

With warlike urgency and rudeness in a


Sky of thoughts?


* Bombardier and pilot in WWII and Korea





The mists,

            White-robed virgins

            Run out to meet the Sun, bright Groom,

            Shimmering spirits, dancing light

Or rising, curling steams alone?


The mists, white-robed virgins

Run out to meet the sun, bright groom.

Shimmering spirits, dancing lights!

Then rising, curling steams so soon.




God’s Mask


Nature is a mask

And god hides


Like a mist across the sun

And god burns


The moon eclipsing

And god flares


A dark thundercloud

And god blazes white and sharp


Like a soft deep snow

And god thrusts tall jagged blue


Like a bunker hides blazing guns

Tall grasses disguise the beast king’s roar


Like a sleeping gown makes mystery

Of a wife’s body


god’s mask falls

And nature burns




     Participation II


A planet, hung in darkest space,

A pearl set in a necklace,

A goddess bathed in golden rays,

Or Logos and Anthropos in transforming embrace?


Balls of distant but earthy fire,

Heroes, lifted from our mire,

Punctured dark vault, uninspired

Or phenomena at our hire?


Voice from the bush in its burning,

A message in the stars’ turning,

My own throat rich with groaning,

Or the chorus for which we ache with yearning?


What of the crushed grape to wine,

The wheat, the same, if it rise,

And the seed, if the oak be prized,

Flesh to spirit, rationalized?


O, thin body, must you shrink,

O, skin, bruised, to living drink,

Thought freed from brain’s coat to think,

Thought freed on spirit’s brink?


And me, from before time began,

Me on earth, again and again,

Me on earth, my self defending,

Me on earth, myself remembering.

 December City


Grey sighing sky

            Droop down, wet and heavy,

            On high,

            Onto sliding, slick buggies

                        Rumble carts,

            Flashing liquid bright,

            And splashing,

                        Sighing back at the sky

                        Whisper ash,

                        Murmur acid,

            Sulfur yellow hush between




Little Bighorn


Billings, Bozeman,

Casper, Buffalo

South from high grasslands

Where the blood flows


Cleared the mists of myth

At Little Bighorn

Small white stones

Alloy of dreaming and bone


Acid neutralized

Quenched in its complement

Bloody precipitation

Dark coagulate


Conscious and dream

Bow lost in bursting flame

The grass’s green

Dulled silently


A soul is lost

A cloud forms

Rain wets the air

Thunder groans



© Danny Smitherman's first published poem appeared in a high school collection, and began: "When will it end / This state of utter confusion". He has continued mostly in that spirit to this day. He's had poetry and other written work published in The Austin Chronicle, Missoula Magazine, and The Journal of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. He is the author of Philosophy and the Evolution of Consciousness: Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances, and is currently working on a collection of essays tentatively titled A Phenomenology of Wilderness. The last half of his life has been shared with his wife - scientist and green thumb - and his daughter - artist, cellist, and high level WOW mage.