Buried

By Patricia Smith b. 1955 Patricia Smith
   “We do not dig graves or put caskets into graves any longer. The decision was made and funeral homes were notified that families and funeral homes would have to supply grave-digging personnel.”
    —Ed Mazoue, New Orleans City Real Estate Administrator and Person in Charge of the City’s Cemeteries
 
 
 
There’s nothing but mud. The ground looks dry and firm,
but underneath is a stew of storm. Stout shovels, rusted,
grow gummed and heavy with what I heft and rearrange.
 
Progress is slow.
 
The sun so often steams me shut, and I have to stop
to gulp sugared bites of tea,
flick away sweat with my swollen fingers,
swat hard at sluggish flies who hover,
 
like they know.
 
And when I start again, there’s a rhythm to it,
some ticking jazz that gets my square hips involved.
I craft a chant purely for downbeat:
Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss it.
Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss it.
My untried muscles blaze,
joints click,
pulse clutches my chest.
 
Whole clocks later, I pause to relish the feat,
to marvel at the way I’ve compromised the earth,
how I’ve been that kind of God for a minute.
But only time has moved.
It’s like trying to reach the next world with a spoon.
 
My boy would have laughed.
Daddy, you better sit down and watch some ball game,
and we’d settle, Sunday lazy,
his squirm balanced on my belly.
 
He needed what I was and what I wasn’t.
Giggling in little language, he lobbed me the ball soft,
walked slower when I was at his side,
shared puffed white bread and purple jelly.
He waited patiently for me after dark
while I shuffled piles of books, looking for
a bedtime drama of spacemen or soldiers,
some crayoned splash to wrap his day around.
 
But every night, when I opened the door to his room,
all I saw
was a quivering mountain of Snoopys, Blues, and Scoobys.
Underneath them, his happy body could barely cage breath.
Giggles unleashed his toes. My line, then: Where are yoooou?

Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss it.
 
Plunge.   Push.   Lift.   Toss—
 
With the dirt balanced high, screaming my shoulder,
I think hard on those nights of tussle and squeal.
I want to feel his heat and twist in my arms again.
 
I have to dig.

Patricia Smith, “Buried” from Blood Dazzler. Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Smith. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press. www.coffeehousepress.org

Source: Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008)

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Poet Patricia Smith b. 1955

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Death, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Patricia  Smith

Biography

Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of five books of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle of the human and environmental cost of Hurricane Katrina which was nominated for a National Book Award; and Teahouse of the Almighty, a 2005 National . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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