Photo Credit: Peter Dressel



Patricia Smith





I can't see what you say inside your head.

Behind your eyes, I can't hear what you mean.

And through your throats, I can't touch threads of me.

I can't begin to fathom who you are

now that you're not the you I thought you were.

You speak in single words that struggle from

a voice that isn't yours, and you describe

a past that clearly harbors none of you

and none of me. I can't reach what you've lost

and all of what you've lost is what I need

to hold, to say and say and say again

until that match head glitters just behind

the two of us, just long enough for us

to see a touch, and we won't need our names

or yesterdays, just that—a chance to say

goodbye, goodbye, in words, from throats we know.








I admit now, in a voice I believe to be mine, that all music is balanced on a drum, a sinful instrument of skin and stick, and that hearts are tuned this way. Amen to all the girls, their scalps greased to shimmer, snapped proper in pinafore and mary janes, whose first song was this song, backed up by an organ wail and a better-sit-still glare from mama, whose first song was marked by the spittle of sick old women, women who would be touched by God soon enough, and amen to all the girls who spent their lives searching for men who would set their collapsing bodies upright, men with electric haloes and one huge blue eye. Here's to the gospel that taught us the intricacies of heartbreak, the ritual of waking alone, the mumbled hallelujahs of three deadlocks on a door, dusty 45s spinning in darkness, sons who don't come home, the stark beauty of whiskey in a Dixie cup, daddies who mispronounce our names, slow dances with dead men, hair that won't stay straight, telling lies to stay alive, scribbled poetry melting into a cocktail napkin, writhing under too many blankets, the cold blue light of a TV screen, any fuck against any wall, a backbone carved of silk, a back tooth that so slowly rots, a war like a giant mouth, glass crackling inward, white men telling black women that the lord ain't there, ain't nothing but air, he ain't there, ain't nothing but air, he ain't there, ain't nothing but air, and if you're not careful, the electric current of question will wither you to a nothing without location, to a nothing searching for knees.


and your life will come differently to your throat







And now the news: Tonight the soldiers

dropped their guns to dance. The sight

of spinning starlit men, their arms

around such waiting waists, alarmed

those paid to blare the sexy words

of war. And how did these hard men

decide on just this time to twirl

in bloodied dust, and how do we

explain the skin to skin, their hips

aligned, dramatic dips---was that

a kiss? Some rumba, others throw

a soundtrack down—they pound deep drums,

they twang imagined strings, they blow

notes blasted blue through sandy winds,

they dream a stout pianos weight.

They spark the dance--the bop and twist,

the tango, yes, the trot and stroll,

the slither, slow, unmanly grind

within a brothers brazen arms.

And so analysis begins.

The talking heads cant spit enough.

The cameras catch the swirling men,

their thrown-back heads and bended backs,

the rhythm of their rite, the ways

they steam.  The toothy anchors chant

their numbers and their names, to shame

them into still. But still the music

blows, the soldiers pivot, swing,

unleash their languid limbs, caress.

They dont slow down to weep or stop

to grieve their new-gone guns. The public

bray begins, the song of killers

killing must resume!, but then

the mirthful moon illuminates

the ball, our boys in dip and glide

and woo. We see the dancers dangling

eyes and oddly open sores,

shattered shoulders, earlobes gone,

the halves of heads, the limp, the drag

of not quite legs. Tonight they dropped

their guns, and snagged a nasty bass

to roughride home. You hear the stomp,

the weary wheeze and grunt, the ragged

nudge of notes on air?  You see

the whirling soldiers spin, the love

they braved, and oh my god, that kiss?