Northern Cross


All these long days since you’ve called have been as the early winter, a knife through a frost-bitten town. Lonely men give confessions over long-distance lines, and drive the night road to cafe lights across the bridge.They come for coffee, ballads and water-color postcards. And when they go home, it’s snow across the lamplight, a cold turn of metal at 29 below. A floorboard’s groan, hard into winter, like three trumpeter swans leaving this place.

Photo by Buddy Smith

Photo taken near Lolo Pass, on the Montana-Idaho line.

Copyright © 2020 Buddy Smith

Twice we met

Even before
we were souls that night
beyond the city lights
face to face
out by the old lake road
watching each other
unbutton the dark
& let down the stars
to see what they might ignite
of this shivering earth

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith

Photo by Buddy Smith

Photo by Buddy Smith

Turns out I’ve never taken a night photo of a lake that was worth saving. Guess these daytime photos of Lake McDonald will have to do.

The summer tree

In the cottonwood shade,
a dance slow and easy
“The Weight”
back in the day
laughing at our six feet
so light in my arms
wind in the treetop
Levon’s beat, carried away

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith

  • Just close your eyes. We all have a place and a time we can visit in the blink of an eye. This poem is based on one of mine, although the images are made up. The tree to which I travel is a valley oak with sprawling branches that have seen everything. It grows on a hill overlooking a kind of lovers’ lane that only two people in the world could ever find. The feeling is just the same.

Flaming star

Sunset through the wildfire haze this evening reminds me that our sun is a burning star. I was hoping to capture a sunspot or two in this underexposed image, which I have done before.

I also had high hopes for hiking or fishing (or both) this morning until I looked outside. My lungs have been through too many Montana fire seasons as it is. … the trails and the trout will have to wait for me once more.

Sciency fact: If the sun were to sputter and run out of fuel at this very moment you’re reading this, it would take another eight minutes for you to know. Not much time to stock up on Duracells. It takes our star’s light that long to reach us, of course, even at lightspeed. Light, like radio waves, is a form of electromagnetic energy, as Mr. Maxwell predicted way back in 1865. Radio waves and light waves (forget wave-particle duality for a moment) travel at the same constant speed because they’re the same sort of thing. Which is why it cracks me up when movies depict space travelers on other worlds communicating with Earth in real-time, despite the vast distances their radio-borne messages would have to traverse.

I’m afraid long-distance lovers on Mars and Earth will have to wish one another goodnight through voicemails.

Photo by Buddy Smith, July 10, 2021

Saving my love for Annie Oakley

I’m no Eastwood, Shane or Marshal Dillon
And anyway she’s in love with Waylon Jennings
But damn the roulette table and all the best rye whiskey
if only the Dakota moon would grant me just one of her soft, wild kisses
I’d gallop outta this one-horse town on a twice-stolen pony,
without so much as even winking at Calamity Jane or Miss Kitty

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith

Full moon rising over the Sapphire Mountain foothills a few weeks back.
Photo by Buddy Smith


Maybe I’ll buy a Harley, ride that rocket to Mexico. Tattoo that Kerouac quote about the mad ones on my skin.

Have coffee outside a bodega at a border town early one morning; stop to talk to the couple draped in beach blanket, watching from the hood of their car for migrating wales. Keep pushing; wales have their road, I have mine.

Order Pacificos in a seaside bar, and take them to the shaded deck. See her look up from her book again as I take a lazy sip of my beer. Admire the sweep of her brown shoulders and the sun-painted water beyond the beach sands.

Find her that night when the band plays a soulful Sam Cooke song. Feel her hips close; her skin damp through her shirt. See her face in orbit. When the music stops, listen for the beach surf. Let myself go dizzy in the Baja heat.

Learn words that make her smile in my broken Spanish. Run my fingers through her long, wet hair in the Sea of Cortez.

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith

Gary Cooper at the grocery store

You say there’s no waiting & so here I am with coffee, cooking oil & bread
& I don’t know what to do with my hands as I watch your slender fingers caress these things of mine
Just thinking of anything, wanting to say anything
But “yup” as the register rings (along with every thunderous clock in this one-horse town) to a drumming in my chest I fear you can hear,
a wounded Dimitri Tiomkin score
And now an exchange of change, pleasant things & Saturday smiles
Then it’s dust at my boots and all the worn-out tiles
Off I go, like that, with a bag in my yearning arms, dimes in my pocket as thin as tin stars

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith

A daydream

Maybe the sky has always loved the shape of this place, as has the ancient sweep of the wind. The wind is your lullaby; your bed the horizon. The meadowlark sighs softly.

Should you close your eyes, you might fall away into the grasses of this spinning earth, crazy with a sudden awareness of tumbling through the cosmos, and that electric hum through your body as you drift into a daydream.

In that dreamscape, you could be an ancient hunter-gatherer pushing farther onto the steppe than any human had ever dared. Or a pair of eager eyes watching for the prairie schooner that brings your English bride from the East.

But you are not an ancient traveler or a lonely settler in your Sunday best. You haven’t time for daydreams. And yet you are here, content to remain a while longer in this beautifully empty space. To listen to the wind and think of nothing but these things.

Photo by Buddy Smith

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith

High above the bison range

In our wildflower place,
the one we borrowed from butterflies and bison,
I saw how lovely she could be:
the way she laid her hand on her heart
and sighed at pretty things.

Photo by Buddy Smith
Photo by Buddy Smith, National Bison Range, Moise, Montana

… photos taken in June or July, a few years back

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith


It’s 1:04 a.m. on my clock radio. “Sweet Jane” drifts in and out.

As I stagger out the sliding door, I see a waning half-moon above the maple—outrunning Orion and the Dog Star.

Out on the highway, a trucker’s Jake brake rattles like a goodbye breath. Someone is always leaving town.

Photo by Buddy Smith

Copyright © 2021 Buddy Smith