Speak Now, Or Forever. Hold Your Peace.

Patricia Smith - 1955-

Two weeks after 17 students were gunned down in Parkland, Fla., hundreds of worshippers clutching AR-15s slurped holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pa.

Draped in thick silk the hue of hemorrhage and bone, you fondle 
your butt stocks, muffled lust needles your cheeks. Your aim? To 
make America great. Again,
 
your terse-lipped Lord has nudged you into the glare—numbed 
and witless in His name, you preen and re-glue blessed unions, 
mistake America straight, contend
 
your unloosed crave for the sugared heat of triggers. Besotted beneath
your crowns of unspent shells, you hard-rhyme vows and 
quake, aware of that weight again,
 
the gawky, feral gush of fetish. Every uncocked groom and rigid 
bride is greased and un-tongued, struck dumb by what’s at 
stake. A miracle waits. You men
 
and women kaboom your hearts with skewered Spam and searing 
pink Walmart wine, graze idly on ammo and blood-frosted 
cake. A prayer is the bait. Amen
 
woos guests in their ball gowns and bird suits, hallows your blind
obsession with your incendiary intended. Though you’ve 
faked America, hate upends
 
all this odd holy—its frayed altars, fumbled psalms, assault rifles 
chic in itty veils. And we marvel at this 
outbreak, bewaring that gate again,
 
left unlatched so this bright foolish can flow through. This ilk 
of stupid blares blue enough to rouse ancestors—y’all ’bout to 
make Amiri berate again,
 
’bout to conjure Fannie Lou and her tree-trunk wrists. While you 
snot-weep, caress mute carbines, wed your unfathomable 
ache, America waits. ’Cause when
 
the sacrament cools, and the moon is pocked with giggling, who’ll 
fall naked first, whose shuddering tongue will dare the barrel? 
Take that dare. Consummate. And then,
 
whose blood will that be?

 

More by Patricia Smith

Medusa

Poseidon was easier than most.
He calls himself a god,
but he fell beneath my fingers
with more shaking than any mortal.
He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders.

I made him bend his back for me,
listened to his screams break like waves.
We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled,
screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner.
The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that.
I'm sure I'll be hearing from her.

She'll give me nightmares for a week or so;
that I can handle.
Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood;
I'll scream when I see it,
and that will be that.
Maybe my first child 
will be born with the head of a fish.
I'm not even sure it was worth it,
Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman,
losing his immortal mind
because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight.

Now my arms smoke and itch.
Hard scales cover my wrists like armour.
C'mon Athena, he was only another lay,
and not a particularly good one at that,
even though he can spit steam from his fingers.
Won't touch him again. Promise.
And we didn't mean to drop to our knees
in your temple,
but our bodies were so hot and misaligned.
It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god,
you know that. Why are you being so rough on me?

I feel my eyes twisting,
the lids crusting over and boiling,
the pupils glowing red with heat.
Athena, woman to woman,
could you have resisted him?
Would you have been able to wait
for the proper place, the right moment,
to jump those immortal bones?

Now my feet are tangled with hair,
my ears are gone. My back is curving
and my lips have grown numb.
My garden boy just shattered at my feet.

Dammit, Athena,
take away my father's gold.
Send me away to live with lepers.
Give me a pimple or two.
But my face. To have men never again
be able to gaze at my face,
growing stupid in anticipation
of that first touch,
how can any woman live like that?
How will I be able 
to watch their warm bodies turn to rock
when their only sin was desiring me?

All they want is to see me sweat.
They only want to touch my face
and run their fingers through my . . .

my hair

is it moving?

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She'd be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.

My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother's
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God's boy would giggle and consider.

Daddy didn't want me to be anybody's surefire factory,
nobody's callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That's it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.

They Romp with Wooly Canines

and spy whole lifetimes on the undersides of leaves.
Jazz intrudes, stank clogging that neat procession
of lush and flutter. His eyes, siphoned and dimming,
demand that he accept ardor as it is presented, with
its tear-splashed borders and stilted lists, romance
that is only on the agenda because hours do not stop.
Bless his sliver of soul. He’s nabbed a sizzling matron
who grays as we watch, a thick-ankled New England
whoop, muscled to suffer his stifling missionary weight.
Earth-smudged behind the wheel of her pickup,
she hums a tune that rhymes dots of dinner trapped
in his beard with twilight. Is it still a collision course
if you must lie down to rest? Bless her as she tries
on his name for size and plucks hairs from her chin.
Bless him as he barrels toward yet another wife
who will someday realize, idly, that her only purpose
in this dwindling novella of his days is to someday
lower his heralded bulk, with little fanfare, into a grave.

Related Poems

The Family Sells the Family Gun

               a prose ballad
 

i only held it once but thought about it often as you think about those times when your life had stood both loaded & unloaded

One brother knew of its existence having seen it where it languished in the famed green storage unit from which it had been transferred to the bank-box but we never quite knew when

Information our father had & something he was squeamish about or proud of at the same time the way Protestants are about genitals

We believed it was a Luger—maybe taken from a soldier—in the War our father trained for but didn’t ever get to because he was wounded in the knee—“sustained” is the word they use—sustained a wound—in infantry maneuvers before his men were mostly killed after D-Day—

When his ashes in the desert grave were lying we took the weapon from the bank-box

i put it quickly in my handbag to get it past the teller—the holster was the smoothest leather—brown & heavy —the yawning L-shape of the Luger Google says Georg Luger designed in 1898 —the holster smooth as the jackets of German soldiers in the movies & what had they done to make the cowhide smooth like that & what had they done to the cow

We thought of burying it in the desert but if you Google burying a firearm it changes to a search for buying a firearm

You can also look up how to load a semi-automatic weapon on YouTube where a white man with thick hands & a wedding band shows you how to check for rounds in what order & tells you how to handle it with your dominant hand

We couldn’t take it to the cops even in my handbag though Arizona is open carry & you can take it anywhere in public but the cops can shoot you if you take your gun to their station

One young Tucson cop named Matt agreed to come to us & checked the magazine & said it was unloaded— looked upon us with excruciatingly mild pity — said this relic might be worth some money & stroked it the way some boys do

i couldn’t tell what the brothers were thinking— it felt like a tragedy but reversible—our father’s ghost stood like a tall working summer like Hamlet’s father’s ghost appearing only in the day & good naturedly telling people not do the killing but still trying to control the actions of the play

You can think about ghostly word weapons nonstop Let’s just take a shot at it She was going great guns He loved her but couldn’t quite pull the trigger Better to just bite the bullet Kill an hour or two

& for some reason maybe sorrow for our father’s power/lack of power i felt a twinge when my brother whisked the tiny heavy out of there —my life had stood a secret little hiddenly shameful semi-automatic firearm & When at night Our good day done i guard my Master’s head

My younger brother sold it for $600 at a Tucson gun shop—one of those outfits where the master paces behind the counter offering advice on collecting & is so proud of his stash

It was a Tuesday i think—a Tuesday inside history where America is lost—& what should we do with the cash