My guide and I first purified before the sacrifice,
but can you be purified I asked her without being eliminated
or erased? My guide said it’s always but with you, why
can’t you just archive the whiteness or curate the liquidity
of the city and play your music or whatever you do? Here,
she said, is where the runaway slaves made a way through,
a cut through the thicket, a hairline crack in the salty progress
and the saccharine business of April, there, can you see it?
I don’t see it, I can’t see it, I said, I see mud and the under/
over story and gold green buds like a child’s coloring.
What were the names? Names? she said, they had spoilage
like fruit and a market price and an exchange rate but no names.
The shining things of your city are their names. But
what did they call each other when they rhymed, I said,
when they licked the salt off one another? It’s always rhyme
with you, she said. They called each other what lovers
call each other after they’ve been worked from can’t see to
can’t see: orphan and mi alma and baby and flaca and boo.
It’s always history with you, I said. It’s always ecstasy with you,
she said. We walked. It was trash day, translucent bags
in front of the church, pearlescent swelling cases like frog spawn.
Black bags in front of the shelter, little todesfugues,
minimal deskilled art. The cans are brutes or toters,
makeshift mausoleums or stops along the sublime,
equal in size to the body if it were smashed and bound,
leaking out pork chop bones, silvers, oils. Rats and crows
rip into human resource and order. Look at the relics
from Byzantium. Look at the maggots and the rubies.

Bruce Smith is the author of six books of poems, most recently, Devotions, a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the LA Times Book Award, and the winner of the William Carlos Williams Prize.