A young boy lies "coiled in my stale bed," suffering from an intractable ear infection, "overwhelming cures / with sourceless pus." His "coarse, cursing, and door slamming" grandfather comes into the room and lays his "scar-sizzled" hand on the boy's erythematous ear. The old man leans over and blows cigarette smoke into the child's ear. [44 lines]


This poem captures an unforgettable scene. The innocent child, the toad-like grandfather, the inexplicable ritual. Is cigarette-smoke-in-the-ear some kind of folk remedy for earache? The grandfather is mean and gruff as they come, but here he appears as a healer (or, at least, as a would-be healer).

Dave Smith's language in this poem, as in Pregnant (see this database) is rich and extravagant, almost overwhelming in its juiciness. These are lines that make you fall in love with the English language. For more on Dave Smith as a Southern poet, see Helen Vendler, "Catching a Pig on the Farm," New York Review of Books (March 4, 2001), pp. 44-46.

Primary Source

The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York