D.J. Smith author photo
  • Series: Modern & Contemporary 50
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-916272-62-3
  • ISBN-10: 0-916272-62-1
  • Pages: 60
  • Size: 0.325 x 6.0 x 8.5 in
  • Price: $9.95

Prayers for the Dead Ventriloquist

D.J. Smith

In Prayers for the Dead Ventriloquist, his first collection of poems, Smith mines childhood memories—snapshots not only of family, but of a mischievous youth—with a precise poetic vision. “This harsh, particular light,” writes Dorianne Laux in her introduction to Smith’s book, “falls first on the people who pass through his small world.” Smith relates episodes of a reality unclean and unpolished, even at times horrific, yet always strangely beautiful. It is this beauty alone that offers reconciliation—the rising hair of woman in an automobile slowly consumed by flames, the metallic body of a hummingbird, the delicate bones of a lover’s back—small pleasures of day’s persistence.


The full text of D.J. Smith’s Prayers for the Dead Ventriloquist is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.

Song for my Brother


Because you cannot sleep, or listen any longer

To the flies gone mad on the sill,

You edge toward the corner

Of the bed, pulling each sock on, carefully,

Without thought of the bitter wind

That rose last night, a dark

Wing over the valley.  You stood

For a long time watching

The thin palms of the boulevard

Shudder and bow.  And the years lost

Digging line in the desert

For the Pacific Gas and Electric

Came back to you,

How the winds there struck

With the sudden concussion of a shell.


You walk out

Under a sky, blank and sticky, laden

With odors of spring, a sky

You told me once, you saw in its entirety

In the loose eyes of a dead coyote.

Though you know it was there, in the quiet,

Unblinking face of a Laotian streetwalker

The day you struggled to leave yourself

In her.


Each day you walk a little farther

Not knowing whether you move

Away or towards.

In the dry heat of this afternoon

You drink to dignity

And silence

With the Indians and hard-core Okies

In Ray Caveros’s West Side Bar.

And as the alcohol begins its slow erasure

You hear the blood

Singing over the metal plates

In your skull, and you think,

This is not your home.  It never was.


Copyright © 1995 by D.J. Smith

D.J. Smith author photoD.J. Smith was born in 1955 in Fresno, in the heart of California's great Central Valley, a brutal landscape which often informs his poems. He has studied with poets Peter Everwine, Corrinne Hales, Charles Hanzliceck, and Philip Levine, eventually taking an M.A. degree in Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno, in 1994. He continues to work and write in Fresno.