Interrogative

By Tracy K. Smith b. 1972
1. Falmouth, Massachusetts, 1972
 
Oak table, knotted legs, the chirp
And scrape of tines to mouth.
Four children, four engines
Of want. That music.
 
What did your hand mean to smooth
Across the casket of your belly?
What echoed there, if not me—tiny body
Afloat, akimbo, awake or at rest?
 
Every night you fed the others
Bread leavened with the grains
Of your own want. How
Could you stand me near you,
 
In you, jump and kick tricking
The heart, when what you prayed for
Was my father’s shadow, your name
In his dangerous script, an envelope
 
Smelling of gun-powder, bay rum,
Someone to wrestle, sing to, question,
Climb?
 
 
                        2. Interstate 101 South, California, 1981
 
Remember the radio, the Coca-Cola sign
Phosphorescent to the left, bridge
After bridge, as though our lives were
Engineered simply to go? And so we went
 
Into those few quiet hours
Alone together in the dark, my arm
On the rest beside yours, our lights
Pricking at fog, tugging us patiently
 
Forward like a needle through gauze.
Night held us like a house.
Sometimes an old song
Would fill the car like a ghost.
 
                                    3. Leroy, Alabama, 2005
 
There’s still a pond behind your mother’s old house,
Still a stable with horses, a tractor rusted and stuck
Like a trophy in mud. And the red house you might
Have thrown stones at still stands on stilts up the dirt road.
 
A girl from the next town over rides in to lend us
Her colt, cries when one of us kicks it with spurs.
Her father wants to buy her a trailer, let her try her luck
In the shows. They stay for dinner under the tent
 
Your brother put up for the Fourth. Firebugs flare
And vanish. I am trying to let go of something.
My heart cluttered with names that mean nothing.
Our racket races out to the darkest part of the night.
 
The woods catch it and send it back.
 
 
                        4. But let’s say you’re alive again—
 
Your hands are long and tell your age.
You hold them there, twirling a bent straw,
And my reflection watches, hollow-faced,
Not trying to hide. The waiters make it seem
 
Like Cairo. Back and forth shouting
That sharp language. And for the first time
I tell you everything. No shame
In my secrets, shoddy as laundry.
 
I have praised your God
For the blessing of the body, snuck
From pleasure to pleasure, lying for it,
Holding it like a coin or a key in my fist.
 
I know now you’ve known all along.
 
I won’t change. I want to give
Everything away. To wander forever.
Here is a pot of tea. Let’s share it
Slowly, like sisters.

Tracy K. Smith, "Interrogative" from Duende. Copyright © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. www.graywolfpress.org

Source: Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007)

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Poet Tracy K. Smith b. 1972

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Parenthood, The Body, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Animals, Social Commentaries, Town & Country Life

 Tracy K. Smith

Biography

Born in Massachusetts, Tracy K. Smith earned her BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999 she held a Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. Smith is the author of three books of poetry: The Body's Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Parenthood, The Body, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Animals, Social Commentaries, Town & Country Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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