Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith Poems

Hip-Hop Ghazal

Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.

Fanny Linguistics: Nickole

What people don't know about my name
is that my grandmother gave me that "k"
—my very own unexpected

Black, Poured Directly into the Wound

Prairie winds blaze through her tumbled belly, and Emmett's
red yesterdays refuse to rename her any kind of mother.
A pudge-cheeked otherwise, sugar whistler, her boy is
(through the fierce clenching mouth of her memory) a
grays-and-shadows child. Listen. Once she was pretty.
Windy hues goldened her skin. She was pert, brown-faced,
in every wide way the opposite of the raw, screeching thing
chaos has crafted. Now, threaded awkwardly, she tires of the
sorries, the Lawd have mercies. Grief's damnable tint
is everywhere, darkening days she is no longer aware of.
She is gospel revolving, repeatedly emptied of light, pulled
and caressed, cooed upon by strangers, offered pork and taffy.
Boys in the street stare at her, then avert their eyes, as if she
killed them all, shipped every one into the grips of Delta. She sits,
her chair carefully balanced on hell's edge, and pays for sanity in
kisses upon the conjured forehead of her son. Beginning with A,
she recites (angry, away, awful) the alphabet of a world gone red.
Coffee scorches her throat as church ladies drift about her room,
black garb sweating their hips, filling cups with tap water, drinking,
drinking in glimpses of her steep undoing. The absence of a black
roomful of boy is measured, again, again. In the clutches of coffee,
red-eyed, Mamie knows their well-meaning murmur. One says She
a mama, still. Once you have a chile, you always a mama. Kisses
in multitudes rain from their dusty Baptist mouths, drowning her.
Sit still, she thinks, til they remember how your boy was killed.
She remembers. Gush and implosion, crushed, slippery, not a boy.
Taffeta and hymnals all these women know, not a son lost and
pulled from the wretched and rumbling Tallahatchie. Mamie, she
of the hollowed womb, is nobody's mama anymore. She is
tinted echo, barren. Everything about her makes the sound sorry.
The white man's hands on her child, dangled eye, twanging chaos,
things that she leans on, the only doors that open to let her in.
Faced with days and days of no him, she lets Chicago — windy,
pretty in the ways of the North — console her with its boorish grays.
A hug, more mourners and platters of fat meat. Will she make it through?
Is this how the face slap of sorrow changes the shape of a
mother? All the boys she sees now are laughing, drenched in red.
Emmett, in dreams, sings I am gold. He tells how dry it is, the prairie.


"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.

Hip-Hop Ghazal

Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.

As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.

Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping 'tween floorboards,
wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.

Engines grinding, rotating, smokin', gotta pull back some.
Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.

Gotta love us girls, just struttin' down Manhattan streets
killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.

Crying 'bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.

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