1. The earth is dry and they live wanting. Each with a small reservoir Of furious music heavy in the throat. They drag it out and with nails in their feet Coax the night into being. Brief believing. A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies. And in this night that is not night, Each word is a wish, each phrase A shape their bodies ache to fill— I’m going to braid my hair Braid many colors into my hair I’ll put a long braid in my hair And write your name there They defy gravity to feel tugged back. The clatter, the mad slap of landing. 2. And not just them. Not just The ramshackle family, the tios, Primitos, not just the bailaor Whose heels have notched And hammered time So the hours flow in place Like a tin river, marking Only what once was. Not just the voices scraping Against the river, nor the hands nudging them farther, fingers like blind birds, palms empty, echoing. Not just the women with sober faces and flowers in their hair, the ones who dance as though they're burying memory—one last time— beneath them. And I hate to do it here. To set myself heavily beside them. Not now that they’ve proven The body a myth, parable For what not even language Moves quickly enough to name. If I call it pain, and try to touch it With my hands, my own life, It lies still and the music thins, A pulse felt for through garments. If I lean into the desire it starts from— If I lean unbuttoned into the blow Of loss after loss, love tossed Into the ecstatic void— It carries me with it farther, To chords that stretch and bend Like light through colored glass. But it races on, toward shadows Where the world I know And the world I fear Threaten to meet. 3. There is always a road, The sea, dark hair, dolor. Always a question Bigger than itself— They say you’re leaving Monday Why can’t you leave on Tuesday?
First published in Gulf Coast. Copyright © Tracy K. Smith. Used with permission of the author.