Dust Bunny City is a love letter. In a poem called “Explaining Affection” towards the end of the slim book, Bud Smith says, “Yeah—it’s a manic everything on fire.” This is as close to trying to expand on his emotions as he gets and it’s the best we could ask for. The rest of the book is set within his daily life and it is through his actions we see the bond he has with his wife. The love he feels for her is so intense the poems sometimes come out feeling underwhelming or simplistic, but that’s because he knows it can’t be put into words—which is why he seems to only try once. Instead of beating us over the head with continuous attempts, he gives us small details. But don’t let this fool you—these moments are more than enough.
The book I split in two—when she is here and when she is gone. The first half, titled “Tic Tac Toe” begins with Smith trying to find his groove in the city. He’s missing buses and can’t find a decent umbrella, but in the end he finds her waiting for him. Once he is connected with her, it seems like he’s at ease with his surroundings. This is also where the stories and poems take a more conversational tone. In “75th Street,” he sits at a bar with his wife eating candy. She takes a bite of an Almond Joy, then they share a moment saying, “Fuck coconuts,” back and forth. It is then they realize there is a horse race on and they have money riding on it. Sure, they are in a bar talking about candy and forgetting about a horse race—not how in love they are or how beautiful the other one is—and it’s through these actions that we’re led to a more realistic example of true love.
The second half, “Orange Peel,” takes place during the few months she leaves for work and he is forced to live in a kind of solitude. Smith goes out of his way to mention how busy he is, even though she is gone. Even in his busy-ness he can’t stop thinking about her. In “Rose Petals and Ripe Berries,” he says, “Even your makeup mirror / is lonely, becoming dusty / I turn your hot iron on sometimes / just to keep the circuits going / me, I’m fine, I’ve got plenty to do / and I’ve circled your return date / on the calendar.” It’s an act of self-diversion and it’s funny that in his seemingly never-ending list of chores he finds the time to cycle her hot iron.
In her absence, he also fears for his own sanity. He decides to fix their bedroom fan—it only worked on the highest setting and was missing the face of its cage—after hearing a story about a man sticking his penis into a fan and letting the blade chop it up. The reader is led to wonder, Was Bud really worried about sticking his own penis into a fan? Doesn’t matter—he fixed the fan so it’s a non-issue, but these are the darker moments that bring a nice depth to the writing and make the reader wonder more about the inner workings of Smith’s brain based on the surface-level actions we’re presented with.
The book is filled with drawings from Rae Buleri, Bud Smith’s wife, and presumably the focus of his writing in Dust Bunny City. This partnership again reinforces the bond they have as a couple. The drawings reminded me of Shel Silverstein which added a level of whimsy to the poems I don’t think would have been apparent without them. The drawings levity also connect the poems to the relationship enough to avoid a self-deprecating tone that could have potentially made the writing collapse upon itself.
In the end, this is a book about optimizing life with your perfect partner. Though it’s not a codependent relationship, because when his wife gets the job opportunity, he tells her to go without hesitation, and when he gets called into work, she doesn’t try to stop him. They are both individuals that know what the other person needs and will step aside if they aren’t able to provide that for them—companionship at its finest. Smith knows himself and is comfortable enough laying out his relationship for us all to see.
One of the last poems, “Reunion Featuring Tulip Tree,” he and his wife look across the street and remark about how a man “is looking up at the sky / and singing himself a song at that sky / he seems to be doing fine / he is out of his mind, all of his problems / are invisible in the daylight.” Bud Smith has shown us his own daylight problems in Dust Bunny City and, by extension, made me want to show mine too.