His charge was to make something out of the contracting cool that glows
and then goes vagrant, whole systems of courtships and compensations
that get lost in a letter appealing to the dust and the red blue extremities of stars.
His charge was to make something out of the over under story or ignore the clot
and throw off the scent of the creatures who would find him. He bypassed
the red morning to get to the blue hours of towering occupation. He ignored
the war, those signatures and sutures. He saw an animal. He saw an exceptional
animal in a small space where capture became data for the glorious self,
where contingency became pity. His animals had wings, no predicament
of meat, no maggot on the carcass, nothing slit or skinned into oblivion.
He felt no crisis of the ugly open mouth. He never saw an eyelash
viper, a dung beetle, a slug, let alone a side of beef. He never saw a woman
with lice. He arrowed into a century as if it were an eternity [the woman
with lice there with her singed face], but he could not follow the arc back
to the suffering moment at the start when the cow got captive bolted
by the sky god. His agony was archery: fletching and a taut string pinched
by two fingers launched into the distance he loved. Distance and velocity
moved him and moved him into beyond [nowhere Zen New Jersey]
and release. Non-bodied sky, circus tricks [acrobats, animals in small
spaces] and the question does it stick its shaft into something or nothing?
Splendid something [St. Sebastian] or miserable, lice-ridden, nothing?
It seems a reasonable question language can’t answer with its hypnosis,
its horizon. Was it an immanent thing or the sensation of holding
the immediate and release. For all the shooting into the blue
he never accounted for the poxed, the poor, anyone’s daughter, the slave,
the baited and bashed. His suffering was sensational, angel-ridden,
and violent without the fact and for this reason I must harm him,
the brooder, the moocher of beauty, after first subduing him, because
that’s what we do in my country. For all the arrows he let go, not one struck
a wallah with one leg who lives between the tracks with his wife and kids.
He killed, this smug archer, this Sagittarius, his family and got away with it
by becoming subtle and expansive and the veins of his skin showed through.
I want him and that part of me that loves courting the blue
and the breezes to be bodied as we do in my country.
Bruce Smith is the author of six collections of poems, most recently, Devotions (University of Chicago, 2011), which was nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award. His fourth book, The Other Lover (University of Chicago, 2000) was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Best American Poetry Anthology, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, The American Poetry Review, and many other journals. Essays and reviews of his have appeared in Harvard Review, Boston Review and Newsday. He has been a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship as well as twice receiving grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Arts. This October, Smith was named a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.