Interrogative

by Tracy K. Smith

1. Falmouth, Massachusetts, 1972
Oak table, knotted legs, the chirp
And scrape of tines to mouth.
Four children, four engines
Of want. That music.
What did your hand mean to smooth
Across the casket of your belly?
What echoed there, if not me—tiny body
Afloat, akimbo, awake or at rest?
Every night you fed the others
Bread leavened with the grains
Of your own want. How
Could you stand me near you,
In you, jump and kick tricking
The heart, when what you prayed for
Was my father’s shadow, your name
In his dangerous script, an envelope
Smelling of gun-powder, bay rum,
Someone to wrestle, sing to, question,
Climb?
                        2. Interstate 101 South, California, 1981
Remember the radio, the Coca-Cola sign
Phosphorescent to the left, bridge
After bridge, as though our lives were
Engineered simply to go? And so we went
Into those few quiet hours
Alone together in the dark, my arm
On the rest beside yours, our lights
Pricking at fog, tugging us patiently
Forward like a needle through gauze.
Night held us like a house.
Sometimes an old song
Would fill the car like a ghost.
                                    3. Leroy, Alabama, 2005
There’s still a pond behind your mother’s old house,
Still a stable with horses, a tractor rusted and stuck
Like a trophy in mud. And the red house you might
Have thrown stones at still stands on stilts up the dirt road.
A girl from the next town over rides in to lend us
Her colt, cries when one of us kicks it with spurs.
Her father wants to buy her a trailer, let her try her luck
In the shows. They stay for dinner under the tent
Your brother put up for the Fourth. Firebugs flare
And vanish. I am trying to let go of something.
My heart cluttered with names that mean nothing.
Our racket races out to the darkest part of the night.
The woods catch it and send it back.
                        4. But let’s say you’re alive again—
Your hands are long and tell your age.
You hold them there, twirling a bent straw,
And my reflection watches, hollow-faced,
Not trying to hide. The waiters make it seem
Like Cairo. Back and forth shouting
That sharp language. And for the first time
I tell you everything. No shame
In my secrets, shoddy as laundry.
I have praised your God
For the blessing of the body, snuck
From pleasure to pleasure, lying for it,
Holding it like a coin or a key in my fist.
I know now you’ve known all along.
I won’t change. I want to give
Everything away. To wander forever.
Here is a pot of tea. Let’s share it
Slowly, like sisters.
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