It is wrenching, really, the way I have to take
his head in my hands and say Baby, something
will happen soon. The reckless of us will slap
someone’s expected ‘round. Our threaded
mismatched fingers screech This tilted life
Lover, I am bomb-hued, napped, savvy about
the way this world sedates and separates.
When I was four, my nana wrapped around me,
whispered lynch directly into my ear, read me
Emmett Till’s imploded eye like a bedtime
story. When I tell my lover the tale, changing
the names to protect the deluded, it fails to
daze his democratic hum. He nods heartily
and mistakes the bloodied moral for a bluish
ballad peppered with a soil he thinks he knows.
Yes, I will regret his eyes when nigger blurs
the air from the lowered window of a passing car,
when a colored elder strolling by sets blaze to us.
But tonight my white man makes me tea. He dips
a splintered thumb in peppermint, brushes a cool
line along the cleft of my tongue. We fold slow
into a single chair, writhe purposefully to insistent
moonwash and a new-age embarrassment of bells.
Our two huge dogs bound in, gasping, dripping
a gray rain. They shake out parties. Our home
sighs its locks shut, siphons our tangle of hue.
Poem first published in CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art and
Patricia Smith is the author of six books of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the Phillis Wheatley Award, and finalist for both the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Balcones Prize. She also authored Blood Dazzler, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Teahouse of the Almighty, a National Poetry Series selection. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The New York Times, TriQuarterly, Tin House, The Washington Post, and in both Best American Poetry and Best American Essays. Her contribution to the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir, which she edited, won the Robert L. Fish Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the best debut story of the year and was chosen for Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a 2014 Guggenheim fellow, a 2012 fellow at both MacDowell and Yaddo, a two-time Pushcart Prize winner, recipient of a Lannan fellowship and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. She is currently working on a biography of Harriet Tubman, a poetry volume combining text and 19th century African-American photos, and a libretto for the city of Philadelphia. Patricia is a professor at the College of Staten Island and an instructor in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where she is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities. She is married to Bruce DeSilva, the Edgar Award-winning author of the Liam Mulligan crime novels.