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Song with a Child's Pacifier in It

Indolent days in exile from Alabama in a city

              My city was a school

in the north I was bussed into: I don't hate it I don't hate it

              cinderblocks of kismet and John Wayne, I do

I don't, where the streets around the sublet are cordoned off

              black like a white kid in detention

for excavating graves of pre-war water and utopian electric

              erotic possibilities of wrongness like a guitar I plucked

threads from the millrace and the loom. When the hot-patch

              hot flash, all adrenaline and vibration, b-twang squeak, semi

truck backs up it makes the sound of an ambulance in France

              conscious of a language of hurt in sweet, predestined ways

and the air is perfumed with the lacquered black oil spilled

              and volition like a little philosopher of hell, I argued

at a great distance from Arabia and Pec, then mopped up and

              to myself said scat and blasphemous prayers

tamped in a form of a coffin. A fine film over the new

              The city was a filmstrip of another world inside this one

a planetary dust over the remains: an imitation pearl

              glaze over the beads of the glorified

plastic tiara, a winged copy of Spare Change in the gutter, an oven mitt

              an oven, an ocean passage, a lost nation

a child's pacifier, a lipstick casing, a pencil

              can you remember this? Akhmatova was asked

but who would write except the indolent? The air

              I remember the air in summer was an atom flow

rarefied with transmissions over the hidden speakers for Cubanismo

              karmic missiles and John Wayne marines and a boy

who will play a benefit for la causa. It's all in the rib cage

              It's all in the belly button, the coach says

A partially repatriated émigré with a crushed hat, I carry

              the outside boy of body, the inside boy of mind

in a wheelbarrow my heterosexual agenda: difference

              that schizophrenia I will carry to the flame and ash

(and shame and shamelessness). I return to the smoke of time

              In the city I fell in love

in Boston when I loved the numinous

              with Mistress Errato and the difference and the evening light

and now I await the dream trials

              for the crimes of 1965, your honor

where exhibit A is rhythm and blues, exhibit B a curl of hair

              I accuse myself of wanting a life

wrapped around a finger then unwound stretched from the

              willful and fatal, enraged and tender, the lifelong split

the Balkans through policy through rapture of the past

              of the self: in the American tar and becoming uneasy

to Tuscaloosa where I will delay the verdict with a song.

— Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith is author of The Other Lover, a finalist for the National Book Award. He teaches in the writing program at the University of Alabama and at Harvard University.

Originally published in the February/March 2002 issue of Boston Review

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