Black History Month Poems – #26


Raconteurs relate trickster
beings empowering themselves with cunning
escapes, Brer Rabbit, African American fables,
rabbit escaping chain, rabbit escaping Yama,
rabbits springing from hand like ripe water
releasing jewelweed

Alex Haley lays down roots healing
robberies of the unwillingly transplanted–
griot helping ancestors rest–ash and shadow
decanted into sweet cleansing waters of an
oasis’s arms raising baby to celestial bodies
and the crescent moon

~ Lady


Okey Dokey, Smokey Grey

Banksy rat, London trash can – foto by Smith

This is my third and last Smokey Grey Private Eye story, which I wrote five years ago in Croatia. The original version seemed to go a bit awry, although the last third’s rather sweet with Lady sitting down and talking with Smokey. Hopefully this rewrite flows better.

Lady wrote two more Smokey stories in Morocco — The Case of the Wet Bandysnatch and Smokey Grey and the Great Rat Mythsssss, plus a vignette titled Smokey Grey, segue #1: Irony Board. I’ll check with her about posting them. Like these three, her’s are built around our actual conversations, but have an entirely different flavor.

About time I did some new Smokey stories, see what he’s been doing these past five years. He’s one strange dude

~ ~ ~

Okey Dokey Smokey Grey

Ever since he’d worked with the sentient plant stalks of Pod Central on the Fennel case, Smokey had a bad pack of pod puns running around his brain. Like, do pod people listen to Peter, Pod & Mary? Did a pod perv pound Peter Prod for pod porno? Could a pod piper placate a pickled pepper’s pink peccadillo?

It made him tired sometimes. He found himself watching folk more closely, trying to see if they were pods, or people. Strangely enough, some seemed both. So far he’d found three pod phylum: Plant Pods, Pod Pods, and People Pods.

Then there were the strange defectives, the none of the aboves. Smokey thought of them as the Pod Won’ts because they chaffed at hive behavior and mocked the mass ought they were taught. They could also mask their musk of must — unlike their counterparts the pod wannabees, humans who wanted to be pods; and most times wishing was enough, hence the passive packs of Pod People plodding along.

Pod Central was run by the Plant Pods (the good guys), while their adversary Pod Centrum was run by Pod Pods (waaaaaaay bad). Centrum also controlled the TV programming. Most humans didn’t know of either camp, but did watch TV, so were part of the poop.

Part of Centrum’s policy was to hunt down and destroy all pod defectives, lest they infect the sheep and make them bleat. Smokey thought he’d met one of their best weapons, a failed pod they let run free in order to trap defectives who gathered around him.

His name was Radish. Smokey knew him because he attracted good smoke. They’d met in Amsterdam and talked awhile while sharing some White Widow weed laced with black gungy hash. Radish was the only person he’d met who smoked as much as he did.

At the time, Smokey had been researching a case for the Demoplants – they’d hired him to trace Pretend Bushit and Vice-Torturer Chainy’s diseased roots. Turned out Chainy had been a mediocre Plant Pod working in Pod Central who’d soured and defected to Pod Centrum. Plant Pods gone bad were the worst because once they went to the dark side, they became tubers. Bushit was just a sad pliant momma’s plant that couldn’t grow right in sunlight because his brain cells wouldn’t glow, which made him dangerously susceptible to the dark tumor Chainy’s machinations.

In his investigation, Smokey discovered Central used birds as information collectors and messengers, while Centrum commingled with the rats of Rodentia for the same service.

He was following a blue bird following a black rat which was keeping tabs on Radish when Smokey first saw Lady K in Sektor 7. The sight of her lifted his weighted heart in unknown ways, so he kept following them on his off hours. Not stalking exactly, just . . . watching.

He overheard Radish telling Lady about being a Judas Goat for the Pods; how he was a defective pod, but *they* let him run free because other defective pods were attracted to him and they watched to see who responded and weeded out the non-programmables. Lady insisted she wasn’t defective, merely efficient. He said she certainly had efficiently escaped her pod sektor. She asked if he were going to take her in and he said no – her efficiency interested them, they were letting her run free to see if her defectivity had any potential military applications. She asked how they knew she wasn’t a viable pod and he explained she’d never worked right pod-wise, ever, not even as a child. She’d always been rogue: had lost her assigned weight, assigned husband, assigned profession, assigned possessions, assigned prejudices. And now she was unpredictable, couldn’t be run for guilt nor money; she had even stopped watching the same brain planners’ daytime TV, which was the final tip-off straw that broke the camel back in the haystack because not watching TV was definitive proof of defective podhood.

She was first attracted to Radish when he’d claimed Republicans tasted just like chicken (because they were) and that the voters would rise in November and eat them all because Radish had promised them one in every pot. Radish said he was sad he was being used as magnet for defective pods, but was glad he’d escaped Podville where everyone watched pod TV and TV talked next pod day at pod work over pod walls in pod buildings with pod parking and hot pod dogs patrolling their pod premises.

Smith and Lady K’s joking brought to mind Freud’s saying there are no jokes, so Smokey checked around. Radish did indeed appear to be a free range defective pod Won’t-Be whom Centrum should have sent to the Brain Camps years ago for root chopping and replanting but hadn’t; definitely Judas material.

Normally Smokey didn’t care and wouldn’t have interfered; but there was something naive, sweet and innocent about Lady K. He thought of her as the Woman from the Elf Woods; wanted to save her. Perhaps save himself in the process. Maybe even get laid. But more than that, he wanted to help her. For free, no strings attached. Smokey felt he should at least tell her what he knew, but didn’t know how to go about it. He was fairly shy and socially inept for an old dude who’d been around, so he kept following them, discreetly.

Sitting in yet another coffee shop (Radish seemed as enamored of coffee as he was of weed), Smokey watched as Lady K got up and walked over to his table, sat down and said “That’s your third cookie this morning. You have quite the sweet tooth. Why do you eat so many sweets?”

“They’re ready made food units. I don’t have to prepare them, they’re there when I need them.”

“Then why not eat carrots, apples, toast, bananas?”

“Toast is good, but it has to be prepped – needs cooking, buttering, leaves crumbs. I like bananas; they come with built in wrappers to keep your fingers clean. Carrots and apples aren’t real food, don’t satisfy, while apples are slimy, juice the fingers.”

“So what do you eat?”

“Coffee, cookies, ice cream, candy, pizza.”

“But that’s so bad for you.”

“No, that’s a misconception. We’re all the same thing – protons, electrons, quark by-products. All this difference is illusion. Doesn’t make any difference what I eat except for convenience.”

“Then you could eat rocks.”

“Yes, if I could get my mind in the right place. Rocks are the same stuff we are, they just move more slowly. Actually I need to get to the place where I can absorb what I need directly from the air. That’d solve my problems.”

She searched his face awhile, then said “You’ve been following us for a week now, and I need to know why.”

So much for discreet. He sipped his coffee, watched her. She was even more attractive up close, didn’t appear angry. She watched him back, polite, waiting.

“Mostly you,” he finally sighed. She sat there, silent. “You tug at me and I don’t know why, or what to do about it. But if that were all, I’d not be following you like this. I’ve stumbled across stuff you should maybe know.”

“Such as?”

“Radish. This is awkward. He has a checkered past.”

She laughed. “I know, he told me… said not only does he have a checkered past, he has a checkered present. Mentioned stolen cars, two armed robberies, a year in jail, drug use, adulteries. He says he’s the danger side of possible, and I believe him.”

“What about his being a Judas Goat for the Pods?”

“Told me that too. Not sure I believe it.”

“You okay with this?”

“Radish honors me, treats me with respect, tells the truth, is interested in what I do, and listens to what I say. Makes me laugh. Loves me. I never know what he’ll do or say next. You must know how unusual that is with men, being one.”

“Yes. I don’t respect many men. Or women. Do like plants and animals though; and children, as long as they’re someone else’s and go away. Okay. I’ll stop following you, leave you two alone.”

“What’s your name?”

“Smokey Grey.”

“Don’t you think I’m a wee bit young for you?”

“Way too young. Can’t help that. But I can still help. If you need me, call.” He handed her a Go Thee & Suffer Less card from his Church of Not Quite So Much Pain & Suffering after writing his number down.

She held the card, looked at him, watched his face awhile, silent. Smiled. “Okey dokey, Smokey Grey,” and walked away.

Smokey watched her disappear. Looked down, saw a cookie crumb. Ate it. Looked around. Saw a black rat watching him. Looked about for the bird.

— Steven B. Smith
written in Liznjan, Croatia 11-2006
rewritten Cleveland, Ohio 10-2011

Bluebird – foto by Smith

The Man in the Grey Fennel Suite – Smokey Grey #2

Private Eye Smokey Grey – foto by Smith

Here’s the second of my three Smokey Grey Private Eye short stories. This one’s my favorite.

The Man in the Grey Fennel Suite

“Gray day, Grey. Whaddya say?”

Smokey looked up from his 5-herb salad. “Not much. Do I know you?”

The answer was obvious from the guy’s uncomfortable way with words, the awkwardness with which he held himself, and his suit which looked to be a sticky dried gray highlighted in hints of glaucous green and yellow, with a whiff of anise. The man himself looked out of focus, neotenous.

“Does anyone ever know anyone? Or themselves? No. I need to hire you.”

“Then I probably say no. What for?”

“To follow my life.”


“Why not?”

“It’s the why knot – I’m a private, not a peeper.”

“No, no – wrong root here. I’m not sure who I am. Or what. I know nothing before waking up two sun specks ago in this ill-colored bad smelling suit.”

Smokey glanced at the suit. It could fit better. “Why me?”

“The web in the room said come down, see you, you’d help.”

“Spider or cyber?” No answer. Suit seemed confused by the question. “OK. Why not. Let me finish, and we’ll go up.”

Watching Smokey eat his parsley, chive, basil & dill salad made Suit uncomfortable. “Do you have to eat that? Isn’t that plant cruelty? Shouldn’t you be eating meat? Or women?”

When they arrived, there wasn’t much in the room – a few scattered umbels of small yellow flowers, some seeds, a Mouse Moth flitting from flower to flower, a burned stalk, a broken web, something that could be a floss farm over in the corner. Smokey tasted a seed – fennel. Hmm, Prometheus used a fennel stalk when he stole fire from the gods, so the burnt stalk was likely fennel too. That explained Neotenous’ suit color and smell. This was starting to stink of plant magic.

Over by the bed was a golden green mound of what could be ground grass or plant pollen. Smokey went over, bent down, sniffed.

His head filled with sweet green licorice pure potent unprocessed fennel pollen with overtones of acid. Sound started pulsating, chopped up, running backward. His vision faded out and in and out in vibrating black and white checkerboard squares. He lost his balance, fell onto the bed, into blackness.

Great Green Grey Stalks with yellow flower mouths and fibrous voices approached Smokey through his hallucinations. “Excuse our lack of manner, Mister Grey, we are sorrow for tricking you. The Pod Golem with you requires aid. We do not know enough yet to program him. His mission affects both flesh and plant. We are losing Bumble Bee. Soon not enough Bumble Bee to dance the plant. No dance, plant die. Plant die, earth die. Earth die, man die. All global warming global warning. Only seven growing season left before too late. After seven season, not enough ice to turn back. Much sun, small ice. Small ice, big ocean. Big ocean, less city, less food, less land, less man, less Fennel. All problem. We create Pod Golem to send out global warning, talk to press, politicians. Please steer Pod Golem. We learn from him, make more. Make each better until best. Send thousand out, million, hives. Talk. Educate. Lobby. If no progress in 3.5 growing season, send out new Pod Golems – saboteurs, assassins. Global warming will stop. Or man will. Fennel will not die. Fennel must live. We ask you, Mister Grey, because you respect plant spirit, commune much with marijuana. Tell us what you need to help send Pod Golem on his way. You can talk to us by sniffing pile pheromone dust. We will see need in your brain pan. Goodbye for now, Mister Grey. Until next blooming.”

Smokey came to, a warm buzz in his brain. Good stuff. He definitely looked forward to next blooming.

Fennel Suit was watching. As Smokey wondered what to tell him, Suit reached into his pocket and handed him a spliff. Grey lit up, toked, offered the joint to Suit, who recoiled in horror blurting, “No, I cannot consume plant,” then plucked the Mouse Moth out of the air and ate it. “Is okay for you because this plant volunteered to be consumed by you. The Cannabis Clan holds you in high regard. As do the dust mites because your smoke makes them happy.”

Smokey smoked, thought, thought, smoked. The problem appeared manageable. Get Pod Golem a decent suit that didn’t smell, get him a large amount of money, show him how to wine and dine and bribe politicians, how to tell the truth while making it sound like a lie and lie like truth, then turn him loose in Washington D.C. as a Lobbyist. Let him learn the ropes, get the feedback back to Pod Central so they could upgrade their Golem Lobbyists, and repeat the process. After they bred out the bugs, no reason they couldn’t flood the earth with lobby Golems to bribe the world to walk the path of life instead of greed. He’d show them how to buy good government. That the world would not end would justify the means. And if it didn’t work, well, he had no problem with Plant Pod Assassins weeding out the disease; he might even help.

Smokey was already thinking he needed to sniff more pollen, tell the Pod Central Stalks that Pod Golem needed money, lots of it. Figured the plant kingdom knew where enough silver hair and golden earrings were buried to make it work.

Smokey smiled at Fennel Suit. “Tell you what I’m gonna do…”

© Steven B. Smith 2011
written 10-2006 in Krakow, Poland
rewritten 10-2011 in Cleveland, Ohio

Smokey Grey on the case – foto by Smith