Armed to the Teeth poems by Ellen Hirning Schmidt

picture of Ellen Hirning Schmidt
Photograph by Oskar Schmidt  

In her new poetry collection, Armed to the Teeth, Ellen Hirning Schmidt faces life's perils courageously, and being armed with the powers of family, the natural world, and a strong heart full of love, emerges victorious. Readers of this book will take heart from its victories. The poet says this about the focus of her book: "I created the poems in this collection to explore despair versus hope as experienced through personal memory, beyond into generational patterns, and in response to climate change and the social divides of our larger world. Nature and humor provided abundant metaphors for this exploration, as is evident in the cover photo, 'Stones in Conversation'."

Mary Jo Balistreri writes about the book as follows: “Armed to the Teeth, by Ellen Hirning Schmidt, speaks of what many of us feel today—fragility, uncertainty, fear for ourselves and our country, but she does not leave us there. There are questions to ponder, possibilities to try on. Though the hawk swoops, carries the mourning dove away in ‘Still Early Morning,’ the tree swallow builds her nest and lays an egg in another poem. In ‘Mining in Upstate New York,’ a small child reminds adults of the wonder to be seen in groups of yellow flowers—she’s panned for gold.  Like Walt Whitman, Schmidt sees that life is round. Like Dickinson, she believes in ‘the thing with feathers,’ and all this is conveyed in clear and beautiful language.  Armed to the Teeth is armed with hope. Could we ask for anything more?"

Joel Savishinsky adds this praise: “Ellen Schmidt is a brave poet, wielding language with precision and humor. There is nothing timid about the poems in Armed to the Teeth. They are bold in ambition and invention. She asks many questions, and is wise enough to challenge her readers to find their own answers, enigmas, and sources of hope. Those fortunate enough to read this wonderful collection will come away with renewed strength and vision.”

  Armed to the Teeth cover image
  Photograph (“Stones in Conversation") by the author
And this from Mary Isabel Azrael: "Welcoming and generous, Ellen Schmidt's poems invite us into her world of childhood memories and family stories filled with surprising images apt, often funny and familiar, and depicting the courage it takes to face the dark. Her compassion for all living beings--humans, trees, the smallest salamanders crossing a road--opens us to wonder and caring in new ways. These are loving poems with the power to change us for the better.”

Ellen Hirning Schmidt first submitted poems for publication when she turned 70 in 2017. She has received the Helen Kay Chapbook Prize, a Pushcart nomination, and a Connecticut Poetry Society Award. Her poems have appeared widely.  Her chapbook, Oh, say did you know, is available through Evening Street Press.  After retiring from a crisis center, Schmidt designed Writing Through the Rough Spots, a class enabling students to create clarity about life challenges through writing.  Her students range widely in age and have come from across the U.S. and 15 countries.  She leads workshops online and at Star island, NH. A mother and grandmother, Ellen lives with her husband Oskar in Ithaca, NY.

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ISBN 979-8-9865522-2-4
First edition, 2023
76 pages


copies of this book will be available
at all bookstores including Amazon
and can be ordered directly
from Ellen Hirning Schmidt
8 Genung Circle
Ithaca, NY 14850.
Send $17 per book
plus $4 shipping
by check payable
to Ellen Schmidt.

The author can be contacted at
Her website is


copyright © 2023 by Ellen Hirning Schmidt


Snow and Roses

“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
my father asks no one in particular,
his big hand over my little one as we
stroll past seaside cottages swaddled in scrabbly rose blooms. 
And even at five, I know what he means.
Now when I look at roses,
impossibly garish ones planted in front of public buildings
or the swoon-filled, lust-petaled blossoms
lazing gracefully on big unruly bushes, 
I push my nose in one and breathe, eyes closed.
As June weeks move on, petals drop one by one, 
fall in a thin ruby carpet,
first lustrous, then brown, curled, and damp. 
And I think of snows and roses and my father,
all so here, all so gone.


“You were the only one,”
he told her.
Randy, blond, blue-eyed
crush of all the girls
in Mrs. Addis’ fifth grade,
playing spin the bottle
at Lynn McPhail’s birthday party,
dashing in his Boy Scout uniform.
Randy’s dad at the annual Firemen’s Carnival
selling chance tickets.
Randy’s dad called out one night,
Randy going along in the big red engine,
watching flames engulf the Jensens’ house,
watching his dad step on that live wire.
At the 50th high school reunion,
he told her.
“You wrote a letter to me then
to say how sorry,”
he said.
“You were the only one.”



Last week an old friend’s son called.
He and his siblings were writing her obit.
What could I tell him, he asked, about his mother.
They knew a little, he said.
They know so little, I thought.

I hang up the phone, and in my mind
my father, dead some forty years,
voices his favorite passage
from Kahil Gibran’s “On Children”:
Your children are not your children
For they dwell in the house of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit.  Not even in your dreams.
My father’s eyes water, his voice quivers;
Young me finds his recitative display maudlin.

Today I think of my children
in their cat’s cradle lives
and I want to tell them:
“Your parents are not your parents
For we dwell in the house of yesterday
Which you cannot visit.  Not even in your dreams.”

My yesterday house resides firm, sturdy,
My today house, assembled such a long time
in fragile parchment, even if strong at the broken places.

Wherever I stand, the bridges
between our houses, my children’s and mine,
each disappear, dissolve midway.
We each view bridges
to nowhere discernible.
There can be no crossing.

Night Light


I lie next to the open window
listening to the sounds of frogs
and nameless night creatures.
Drunken trees darken the space
surrounding the house this night.
But I cannot help seeing
how the sky glows bright
from the jeweled city a few miles away,
how this light blanches the silken sky,
how it enters the room,
grabs fistfuls of my restful darkness.

I have heard that there exist
a few havens that lie very still
under the airy dark quilt
on our future-borrowing planet,
where blue-black evenings
merge into the close and holy darkness,
where light takes an utter holiday,
where night nourishes all,
while creatures hunt,
plants pause from making food –
these places where I imagine
brain, bone, and blood burgeon
in black satin sleep.
Night’s nourishment comes
with the drink of sleep
in a long unmeasured blink.

Now black foliage slides into shadows
moments before sleep sweeps me away.
When I will awaken hours later,
still night time measured by clock,
my eyes half closed, half open,
the high moon will flood
the garden with a light far brighter
than distant stars or nearby planets.


If I could hold one day
in the palm of my hand,
it would be this day
in September, goldenrod
waving slender yellow fingers
in sunshine, in the fall of summer.
If I could hold one mouthful of this day,
it would be the turgid tomato
bursting its glistening guts to teeth and tongue
and shirt.  If I could see the contour of this day,
it would be this bumble bee’s bottom
backing out of this blue morning glory.
How many bumble bees’ backsides?
How many bursting tomatoes? 
How many fields of goldenrod?
Count them.


Step Right Up & Try Your Luck

Just one bolt of lightning
fried the answering machine,
as it had two weeks earlier.
What are the chances?
It took only one train to kill my sister.
Strange hand, finger on an unknown trigger,
cocked without aim
in absurd Russian Roulette.
one shoe or another will drop.
Climatic catastrophe
or dread disease
might claim victory.
Of course, there’s a chance
that an errant comet will
take care of all of us at once. 
Last night the wind formed
archipelagos of slippery pine needles
with dry oak leaves
into gliding mines on the road.
This morning, picking my way
in the channels between them
in another game
of chance, I am
armed to the teeth
with Hope.

Mining in Upstate New York


Lilo, fifteen months old, tucked into her stroller
as I push in the chill of early April.
We walk in that spring of 2020,
my husband and I, our son and his wife.

From under her quilt a mittened hand escapes.
Pointing to the saffron sprays of forsythia
lining the side of the road, she shouts
“Yeh-yoh, yow-yoh!  Yeh-yoh, yow-yoh!”

Glancing at bushes of yellow wands,
we smile, straighten the stroller cover,
and resume our conversation
about these new Zoom meetings.  

We pass a yard boasting golden daffodils
“Yeh-yoh, yow-yoh!”  She claps her red mittens.
The grown-ups nod, caught up in the strain
of this strange new world.

For a half mile she shouts and points again
and again at buttery bushes, at blond blossoms.
Wrapped and snuggled, she affirms
her urgent claim.

Under the endless, dreary clouds
she’s panned for gold,
struck it rich,
rapt in her new wealth.

Saving Salamanders

A red eft salamander wriggles across our road
as together my neighbor and I walk six feet apart.
“It’s all going to hell in a hand basket,” she says as I
lean down, reach my thumb and forefinger
around the soft orange body,
long and flexible like a young string bean,
so supple, so squashy.
“We’ll not survive it,” she adds.
I place the newt near the watery ditch on the side of the road
where she seemed to be heading.
“No income.  No food.  No health care.”
I see another tiny orange body, carry her across
to the other side, where she seems to be journeying.
“No infrastructure.” 
And then there’s another one going the same way
and I carry her too.
Each time we walk another round in the neighborhood,
another squiggly amphibian wiggles
her tender body on rain-drop feet, making her way
one way or another.
In the end, nine salamanders
airlifted to the other side.
We too go home to our houses.
Waving good-bye, she smiles and calls,
“See you tomorrow!”