who cares how long i’ve spent with my poems—those shit psalms those rats of my soul—head first thru the window me at their ankles demanding substance, revelation, sudden gravity—shamed of my leafless, drug shanked brain—this grey popper worn hell—that dark dull circle i try to conquer beauty & the state from within. i’m not revolutionary i’m regular. nothing radical in being the enemy of america, the country of enemies. we find our laughter between the horror. stop asking me to explain having a body & a mind & a heart—their harmonies, their plots to murder each other. i’ve lived long in a low solstice—wife of a pipe & the blue lit plain—leo trash—saved by occasional dick & the knowledge of my mother, friends i confess my pocked seasons only after their caul. arachnid moods—self-cornered—text back weak—i haven’t been much lately—the dark season lasted years, swallowing seasons, collecting itself in my shallows like a motor-sheered fish. where did the poems go? what is their trouble? what kind of water is i?
Copyright © 2023 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.