Fred Schmalz is an artist and poet. His first full-length collection, Action in the Orchards (Nightboat Books), responds to encounters with dance, music, and visual art. His recent writing has appeared in Poetry, Conduit, and Oversound. His art collaboration with Susy Bielak, Balas & Wax, is currently in residence at Grand Central Art Center. With the Helsinki-based choreographic team Thar Be Dragons, they are part of Tanssin Talo's current SPARKS production development cohort. and

Day One



we stand our naked bodies

facing each other

snow is coming down


our journey begins

before daybreak

we will need blankets


gypsum pebbles

washed in an irregular

tin bowl



we will feel compelled

to stop and relieve ourselves


at intervals

you will bleed into a feather

our cabin will tallow


its roof cave in a bit

one of us will require a bandage

at night we will


roast potatoes on a stick

then wrap ourselves in felt

satellites will


trace the heavens

coming slowly

into range


New Year’s Eve



leaning over a balcony railing

to shake the circular rug

of bread crumbs and seeds

gathered and shed

I have been thinking again

of how a year closes and another

sets out from home

in the lightest perceptible rain

nightfall comes slowly

the foxes that play in the roadway

and which I can see from here

trot off between houses

soon the shops will shutter

your daughters take spoons

to devour the cakes we brought

propped on round white plates

they remind me of

the palm-sized paving stones

we pocketed last night on our walk home

they are everywhere around us working

loose in the freeze the thaw the freeze

The price of bread



among women with women for eyes

cities rise and fall         with the price of bread

in the time it takes


sound to arrive             I move

about a hotel room

it has windows but the windows


look out onto other interior rooms

as much as I love its hearth      I have

spent years acclimating to accoutrements


hung above the mantle             animal trophies

flue drawing our fires

in a rush of air and danger


our bodies’ instincts

filigreed by touch         and in my hunger                   

this moment to savor


requests            I leave

the hotel for a diner counter               

where I may accompany


a small knot of bread and bowl of soup

into the latest hour before

the earliest hour overtakes




1. the concert hall is not a museum





it is an apartment house


surrounding a courtyard                                                 a fountain


where our neighbors sing indiscriminately



from the balcony railings                                   accord


reached among tenants


who       pulley       love       notes       across       like       wash




the day’s last light

unrequited in its shadow-throwing

gathers at the foot of the steps



to honor the woman inside the cello


we offer an infinite Matryoshka 


musical notes

full of love to bursting             


we join with no idea what will happen



after the sun goes down                                  







(the effect is giddying)


when                                                 at a great distance

you prop sticks into a circular furrow


an ember flies from the fire


as you lean into your neighbor’s ear



to let out a surge of air



2. move around





arrive early


walk through the courtyard


seed the footpath behind you



pause to plant tulip bulbs at the foot of the fountain




gather the neighbors


hold hands in a circle                          

                                                            feel pulses complement

(mine faint              yours double-time)



split the night in two

lie on your back in the open cusp of one of its halves



remember this trajectory

                                                                        (stick notes in your shirt to help)




exit a door labeled “This Is Not a Door”


keep going              barely moving


learn by doing

remind me where we begin








3. save for later





to wait for neighbors

is to imagine in silence

an end to silence


and to see in one window


a bright lamp and a woman


her back to us              ascending a stairwell



I find a piece of paper torn


watch it              flutter down              (long time coming)


leaving             red in tiny fingernails



dear letters                                   land in my lap



presents for you



a hole die-cut in a home          


a harp laid to rest




before the incredible quiet returns


let me see your face







Foraging in the woods



for what am I the question

get home safe                 bring back food


I take place over hundreds of years

entering a glowing passageway


my branches digest the open air

leaving obscured the precise altitude


assumed when I fear the invisible

get home safe                 bring back food


what wild hand has me by the nape

until I cough up


reasons to provide milk            a cord of wood

get home safe                 bring back food


how many have seen                more with grace than

a spark coddled in tinder and kindling


leaves us           at risk of sear

nature costumes the ear within


a radio playing into the courtyard

drones two stories about home


each one a different window

smoke enters                get home safe…


a sick upside    we simply can’t shake

suffering each other’s warmth








“Day One,” “The price of bread,” and “Foraging in the woods” appear in Conduit 30.


“New year’s eve” appears in Oversound 6.


“FluxConcert” was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for
the FluxConcert of its 2018-19 Fluxus Festival.