In Brazil

- 1972-

for Adélia Prado

Poets swagger up and down the shore, I’ll bet,
Wagging their hips in time to the raucous tide.
They tip back their heads and life sears a path
Down the throat. At night they dance, don’t they,
Across tiles that might as well be glass, or ice.
And if they don’t want to spend the evening alone,
They don’t. And if they want to wear snow-angels
Into the sheets of some big empty bed, that’s
What they do, until a dark form takes shape
On the ceiling overhead. Then they put on a robe
And kick around looking for some slippers.
When the poem finally arrives, it grins
And watches back with wide credulous eyes.

More by Tracy K. Smith

Ghazal

The sky is a dry pitiless white. The wide rows stretch on into death.
Like famished birds, my hands strip each stalk of its stolen crop: our name.

History is a ship forever setting sail. On either shore: mountains of men,
Oceans of bone, an engine whose teeth shred all that is not our name.

Can you imagine what will sound from us, what we’ll rend and claim
When we find ourselves alone with all we’ve ever sought: our name?

Or perhaps what we seek lives outside of speech, like a tribe of goats
On a mountain above a lake, whose hooves nick away at rock. Our name

Is blown from tree to tree, scattered by the breeze. Who am I to say what,
In that marriage, is lost? For all I know, the grass has caught our name.

Having risen from moan to growl, growl to a hound’s low bray,
The voices catch. No priest, no sinner has yet been taught our name.

Will it thunder up, the call of time? Or lie quiet as bedrock beneath
Our feet? Our name our name our name our fraught, fraught name.

Duende

                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?

Watershed

200 cows         more than 600 hilly acres

            property would have been even larger
had  J not sold 66 acres to DuPont for
                      waste from its Washington Works factory
where J was employed        
                                                did not want to sell
            but needed money   poor health         
mysterious ailments

Not long after the sale cattle began to act
deranged     
                          footage shot on a camcorder
grainy               intercut with static         
Images jump repeat      sound accelerates        
      slows down          
                    quality of a horror movie

the rippling shallow water       the white ash
      trees shedding their leaves 
                                                      a large pipe
discharging green water      
                                                  a skinny red cow
hair missing      back humped  
                                               
a dead black calf in snow         its eye
      a brilliant chemical blue    

                                            a calf’s bisected head       
      liver     heart    stomachs    kidneys           
              gall bladder      some dark      some green                  

cows with stringy tails         malformed hooves           
      lesions      red receded eyes        suffering   slobbering       
                  staggering like drunks

It don’t look like
                               anything I’ve been into before

                                   

I began rising through the ceiling of each floor in the hospital as though I were being pulled by some force outside my own volition. I continued rising until I passed through the roof itself and found myself in the sky. I began to move much more quickly past the mountain range near the hospital and over the city. I was swept away by some unknown force, and started to move at an enormous speed. Just moving like a thunderbolt through a darkness.

 

R’s taking on the case I found to be inconceivable

It just felt like the right thing to do
                                                                   a great
opportunity to use my background for people who
                                really needed it          

                                R: filed a federal suit 
                                         pulled permits  
                                             land deeds    
                                                     a letter that mentioned
a substance at the landfill     
                                                 PFOA          
                               perfluorooctanoic acid

a soap-like agent used in
                                              ScotchgardTM
                                                                         TeflonTM

PFOA:                 was to be incinerated or
                              sent to chemical waste facilities     
                                    not to be flushed into water or sewers

DuPont:
                 pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds
                          into the Ohio River    
                 dumped tons of PFOA sludge
                          into open unlined pits 

PFOA:
               increased the size of the liver in rats and rabbits         
                                  (results replicated in dogs)
               caused birth defects in rats      
               caused cancerous testicular pancreatic and
                             liver tumors in lab animals      
               possible DNA damage from exposure 
               bound to plasma proteins in blood     
               was found circulating through each organ       
               high concentrations in the blood of factory workers   
               children of pregnant employees had eye defects          
               dust vented from factory chimneys settled well-beyond
                            the property line
               entered the water table
               concentration in drinking water 3x international safety limit
               study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer
               worth $1 billion in annual profit
 

(It don’t look like anything I’ve been into before)      

 

Every individual thing glowed with life. Bands of energy were being dispersed from a huge universal heartbeat, faster than a raging river. I found I could move as fast as I could think.

 

DuPont:
               did not make this information public
               declined to disclose this finding       
               considered switching to new compound that appeared less toxic
                        and stayed in the body for a much shorter duration of time
               decided against it
               decided it needed to find a landfill for toxic sludge
               bought 66 acres from a low-level employee
                        at the Washington Works facility
 

(J needed money         
                                         had been in poor health     
a dead black calf              
                                         its eye chemical blue          
cows slobbering               
                                         staggering like drunks)

 

I could perceive the Earth, outer space, and humanity from a spacious and indescribable ‘God’s eye view.’ I saw a planet to my left covered with vegetation of many colors no signs of mankind or any familiar shorelines. The waters were living waters, the grass was living, the trees and the animals were more alive than on earth.

                                   
D’s first husband had been a chemist
                                                                          When you
worked at DuPont in this town you could have
everything you wanted
                                       DuPont paid for his education          
secured him a mortgage           paid a generous salary 
even gave him a free supply of PFOA

 

He explained that the planet we call Earth really has a proper name, has its own energy, is a true living being, was very strong but has been weakened considerably.
 

                                                              which she used
as soap in the family’s dishwasher       

 

I could feel Earth’s desperate situation. Her aura appeared to be very strange, made me wonder if it was radioactivity. It was bleak, faded in color, and its sound was heart wrenching.

 

                                                Sometimes
her husband came home sick—fever, nausea, diarrhea,
vomiting—‘Teflon flu’

             an emergency hysterectomy
                                                                   a second surgery          

 

I could tell the Doctor everything he did upon my arrival down to the minute details of accompanying the nurse to the basement of the hospital to get the plasma for me; everything he did while also being instructed and shown around in Heaven.
 

Clients called R to say they had received diagnoses of cancer
         or that a family member had died

                  W who had cancer had died of a heart attack

            Two years later W’s wife died of cancer

They knew this stuff was harmful
            and they put it in the water anyway
 

I suspect that Earth may be a place of education.
 

PFOA detected in:
                                American blood banks    
                                blood or vital organs of:
                                                                            Atlantic salmon
                                                                            swordfish
                                                                            striped mullet
                                                                            gray seals
                                                                            common cormorants
                                                                            Alaskan polar bears
                                                                            brown pelicans
                                                                            sea turtles
                                                                            sea eagles
                                                                            California sea lions      
                                                                            Laysan albatrosses on a wildlife refuge
                                                                                          in the middle of the North Pacific       Ocean;>


Viewing the myriad human faces with an indescribable, intimate, and profound love. This love was all around me, it was everywhere, but at the same time it was also me.

 

                                      We see a situation

        that has gone

                                from Washington Works
 

All that was important in life was the love we felt.
 

                                                                                          to statewide
 

All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.

 

                                     to everywhere
 

                  it’s global

                                  

In my particular case, God took the form of a luminous warm water. It does not mean that a luminous warm water is God. It is just that, for me, it was experiencing the luminous warm water that I felt the most connection with the eternal.