What Garfield Park Kept Saying Poem by Patricia Smith

What Garfield Park Kept Saying

No one skated. Of course we couldn't.
We had very specific ideas about blades,
and our feet were never involved: My mother
absently sucked the loose gold that framed
her left front tooth while slicing into the thickness
of some pig for the necessity of supper. Daddy
carried a quick-flick razor in the side pocket
of pencil-legged pants, just waitin' for some
fool to get wide on whiskey, slyly palm the ace,
and get cut. In my room off of other rooms,
I danced slowly around the edges of paper dolls,
scared to slip and slice recklessly into blonde flips
or perfect pink legs. The idea of chilly dance,
of a snowy felt skirt with flouncy curled hem,
of lacing up in stiff white leather and scissoring
gracefully on dirty ice past storefront preaching
and gin mills, of lifting up one leg and spinning
like a hot whisper and not even falling, the idea
was hurtful because one more time I had to reach
so far outside my own head to even think that way.

But from the layered gray greenness of the park,
a recorded monotone kicked in, 10 p.m. every night,
droning until dawn: Danger. Do not go on the ice.
Danger. Do not go on the ice. Oh, that's left over,
daddy said, from the days when young Jews twirled
gleefully into and out of the arms of one another,
passing time while their fathers coaxed thick music
from bulky phonographs and their mothers fiddled
with perfection of place settings. At night, the ice,
suddenly more water than anything, impenetrable
beneath the moonwash, would lure them back.
The recording was a monotone lullaby mean to lull
them to sleep. Because sometimes a starlit skater
would crack the lying surface, flail beautifully,
scream into the pocket of dark, and drown.

During the day, I'd scurry past the line of swings
singing out their rust. Boys leaned toward my
running to whisper a symphony of the word pussy,
and frightening manless mothers arced like rooftops
over their ashy screeching children. I searched hard
for the lost rink, a golden gleam beneath the napped
weeds and slush. One time I thought I sensed a faint
outline, a soft bean-shaped impression, muted and
glamorous, but there was nothing to be resurrected,
no water to freeze and glisten and beckon. The metered
frost of the nightly warning rode uselessly on the air,
continuing to fracture the ghosted dreams of Negroes.

But deep in the thump of December, some of Garfield's
ice circles turned to mirrors. I was obsessed, standing
then stomping on them, pounding with my full weight,
jumping then smashing down, tempting the fate I'd
been warned about, one more place only beauty could reach.

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