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Published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2018.
About this Poem 

“Where else, under the thin guise of renewing their human-to-human vows, could stiffly-garbed patriots commit romantically to each other with their firearms by their sides? We’re all living in a twenty-four-hour Walmart; it’s 2:43 a.m., and, once again, common sense is not for sale. And as for using 45's popular, stomach-churning refrain as the core of the ghazal—how could I not?”
—Patricia Smith

Speak Now, Or Forever. Hold Your Peace.

Two weeks after 17 students were gunned down in Parkland, Fla., hundreds of worshippers clutching AR-15s slurped holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pa.

Draped in thick silk the hue of hemorrhage and bone, you fondle 
your butt stocks, muffled lust needles your cheeks. Your aim? To 
make America great. Again,
 
your terse-lipped Lord has nudged you into the glare—numbed 
and witless in His name, you preen and re-glue blessed unions, 
mistake America straight, contend
 
your unloosed crave for the sugared heat of triggers. Besotted beneath
your crowns of unspent shells, you hard-rhyme vows and 
quake, aware of that weight again,
 
the gawky, feral gush of fetish. Every uncocked groom and rigid 
bride is greased and un-tongued, struck dumb by what’s at 
stake. A miracle waits. You men
 
and women kaboom your hearts with skewered Spam and searing 
pink Walmart wine, graze idly on ammo and blood-frosted 
cake. A prayer is the bait. Amen
 
woos guests in their ball gowns and bird suits, hallows your blind
obsession with your incendiary intended. Though you’ve 
faked America, hate upends
 
all this odd holy—its frayed altars, fumbled psalms, assault rifles 
chic in itty veils. And we marvel at this 
outbreak, bewaring that gate again,
 
left unlatched so this bright foolish can flow through. This ilk 
of stupid blares blue enough to rouse ancestors—y’all ’bout to 
make Amiri berate again,
 
’bout to conjure Fannie Lou and her tree-trunk wrists. While you 
snot-weep, caress mute carbines, wed your unfathomable 
ache, America waits. ’Cause when
 
the sacrament cools, and the moon is pocked with giggling, who’ll 
fall naked first, whose shuddering tongue will dare the barrel? 
Take that dare. Consummate. And then,
 
whose blood will that be?

 

Copyright © 2018 by Patricia Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Patricia Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith is a poet, teacher, and performance artist. Her poetry collections include Incendiary Art and Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

by this poet

poem
Poseidon was easier than most.
He calls himself a god,
but he fell beneath my fingers
with more shaking than any mortal.
He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders.

I made him bend his back for me,
listened to his screams break like waves.
We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled,
screaming and
poem
My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with
poem

 

Upon their arrival in America, more than twelve million immigrants were processed through the Ellis Island Immigration Center. Those who had traveled in second or third class were immediately given a thirty-second health inspection to determine if they were fit to enter their new country. A chalk