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Listen to Bill reading excerpts from his book, “The Poetic Works of William Smith.” You can get a copy of the complete book in our store.

 

ODE TO A MIRROR

I know a thousand faces that don’t know me
I have seen ’em all, sad and gay, caged and free
Blue, moist eyes crying and yearning for love
Brazen, black ones glaring coldly above
Selfish, evil souls have rehearsed before me
Revealing their greedy plots to me only
So many times I’ve tried to reach out
To aide and soothe those riddled with doubt
There were those who thought they had it all
Sad, puny wretches with hearts so small
And then those poor bastards who were driven
Hoping that their sins would be forgiven
They’d cry and weep ’bout their lonely past
Swearing that their lives were pure and chaste
Yet only to themselves do they lie
And only by themselves will they die
But when out of rage they shatter me
My crumbling pieces shall set me free
Never more will I mirror their sniveling frailty
For my shards mean not seven years, but eternity

 

Listen to Bill’s audio version

 

ONE MORE DAY

Lord, won’t you let me wake up one more day
Lord, won’t you let me mount my bony old bay
When I was young and hard how I loved the trail
But now I’m old and tired and my life’s gone stale
My skin turned to rust, beat by prairie rain
My pockets full of dust, bones full of pain
I’ve been chasing doggies and ridin’ range
Since I was a whelp and I’ll never change
But my heart’s still young after all the years
My eyes still clear, washed clean by salty tears
Lord, won’t you let me wake up one more day
Lord, won’t you let me mount my bony old bay
Won’t forget spring bustin’ out green and bold
And winter’s wounded grass, stiff and cold
And timber wolves so close I’d feel them sigh
Nights so lonely I felt I’s gonna cry
Oh, that feel of clean sheets in some rank cow town
’Fore the trail dirt and sweat stained ’em all brown
And bar girls pumping power ’tween my thighs
And I can still hear their satisfied cries
Lord, won’t you let me wake up one more day
Lord, won’t you let me mount my bony old bay

 

Listen to Bill’s audio version

 

THE REAPER

I remember when my friends and I
Thought that youth and games would never die
We cherished the girls, grog and laughter
Ribald at night, meek mornings after
But now malt’s too strong and girls too young
All our stories old, our song’s been sung
We mumble in search of long dead wit
Humor now is the daily obit
Our high is sharing a friend’s demise
He was a fine lad, echo our lies
While we gloat that it’s him not me
Knowing that they always fall by three
Wallowing secure ’cause Sam was third
Surely there’s time ’fore my taps are heard
Then there’s news of the death of old Hugh
Well, hell, that clown never paid his due
Nights alone you feel the Reaper’s chill
Then at dawn there’s a fine, undead thrill
Check pulse, poke liver, no pain, no fear
Hit the bars ’cause he’s dead, you’re still here
No canes or taxis for you today
On this fine and smogless first of May
Jauntily out the door to the street
Gaily you greet all those that you meet
Then as you stroll you think of old Hugh
The wind sighs, “He was younger than you”
As a maverick tear rolls from your eye
You know you gotta laugh instead of cry
You’ve done some bad and you’ve done some good
You wouldn’t change things even if you could
’Cause through the years you’ve run a good race
The Reaper chased and couldn’t keep your pace
So toast those that live and those that die
And while you can, spit in the Reaper’s eye

 

Listen to Bill’s audio version

 

ODE TO WOODY

I’ve been wandering this land for so many years
Seen a few smiles and a whole bunch of tears
I’ve seen ’em caged and I’ve seen ’em free
I’ve seen ’em blind with souls that could see
I’ve seen ’em small and I’ve seen ’em tall
Never met a man that couldn’t crawl
So many times I’ve tried to reach out
To comfort those with lives full of doubt
I know I’m lucky to get so very old
But the years made me humble instead of bold
I wanna feel the wind to blow
And taste the white of the snow
Breathe some air still pure and clean
And lie in the grass that God painted green
I wanna go where I can see the stars
Somewhere where windows have no bars
Someplace that I’ve never been
Somewhere where freedom’s not a sin

 

Listen to Bill’s audio version

 

Excerpt from Bill’s new book
“The Poetic Works of William Smith”

On screen William Smith, who’s tall, with a bodybuilder’s physique and eyes as dark as Robert Ryan’s and a deep, gruff voice, is always a formidable presence, an ultimate macho icon. More often than not cast as a villain than a good guy in countless films and television shows, Smith has been a worthy adversary to the likes of Clint Eastwood and Burt Lancaster and has appeared in every genre, including biker movies in the 60s and 70s and numerous westerns.

The opportunities for Smith to reveal a sensitive side have been infrequent, but one of the best instances was the high-octane, yet unexpectedly poignant 1969 biker picture “Run Angel Run,” which was written by Richard Compton and which marked the directorial debut of the late Jack Starrett. Smith is typically a tough guy, but with his equally resilient lady (Valerie Starrett, then the director’s wife) he turns his back on the biker life, drifts into domesticity and falls in love.

It’s this movie, plus a passing acquaintance with Smith over the years, and an awareness of his substantial education, which includes a UCLA master’s degree in Russian—which he has taught at the university—that makes the discovery that Smith is also a vigorous and accomplished poet not all that surprising to me. He writes straight from the heart, plainly and directly—and always with the insights and reflections of a man who has lived life fully.

Working within the ancient discipline of the rhymed couplet, Smith is as impassioned a poet as he is an actor. He can make unadorned vernacular speech soar with both joy and sorrow and sometimes both at the same time. He addresses love in all its challenges and asserts its capacity to endure, and he revels in a closeness to nature. He cherishes Native Americans, cowboys and hobos—and laments the passing of drive-in theaters. He acknowledges the passing of time and the reality of aging with stoic dignity, but time and again asks for one more dawn and advises in a number of his poems always to “run for the sun.”

His imagination is unbridled. In one of his most distinctive and effective poems, “Ode to a Mirror,” he assumes the voice of a looking glass which has had the power to see through all the people who have peered into it. He has even taken the identity of an elephant, transporting a Zulu boy and then an Afrikaner lad as well, from Soweto to Johannesburg. The poem concludes with a plea for freedom, a recurrent concern. Smith can speak for a back alley and all it witnesses and can assume the guise of the Enola Gay, the plane from which the first atom bomb was dropped over Japan. He can also conjure up a canny conversation between Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Smith expresses indignation with the slights and scorns directed at American military men and women who have served their country in unpopular wars. His work is acutely personal, and it includes odes to loved ones and friends, such as Dan Vadis and Robert Tessier, who were rugged guys like Smith. If by chance you happed to have known and cared for some of the people Smith eulogizes you know just how beautifully spot-on he can be. Of Starrett he writes, “He’s probably the best director I ever knew/And why he had the talent, he didn’t have a clue.” Of the late bodybuilder-actor Chuck Pendleton, who as Gordon Mitchell starred in countless Italian sword-and-sandal spectacles, he declares “A more sincere man one will not find/He is big and strong with a heart so kind.”

Smith does not shrink from mortality, his own as well as that of others. In one of his most stirring works, “The Road of Life,” he writes: “When we’re young we have no fear of the Reaper and his scythe/We glide through time knowing there’s tomorrow, blessed with life/But then one gloomy day we suddenly realize we’ve seen three score/We don’t feel so young, strong and alive, like before.”

—Kevin Thomas
veteran Los Angeles Times film critic