I rode the Greyhound watching the twitchy things of the North give way
to the sticky, bloodshot things of the South. No ground so burnt
there’s not a church where I heard the Reverend amplify, rarefy,
and glorify the word so that we were all in some state of sweating July.
The ashy black man and the white bail bondsman held each other
until they were blue. I heard the Reverend take the hymn of my mama
and the whore’s perfume and mix them. Downhome/downtown.
His voice in Arkansas behind the plow. His voice in Michigan stoop sitting.
His voice in a satin cheap tuxedo as he drew back from the microphone
and in the air the tea olive bloomed – formal, miraculous pockets of sweetness
I turned to. . . Now, his voice soars over the devil in falsetto, finding the register
that floats me over the sugar hill and the narrow path. I’m falling into the hands of a man who vows never to let go as he lowers me (his breath on my face)
into the river – Reverend, I will not throw the scalding grits in your face.
I just want the blush from your stubble, and here I am Baby
to be kindled by your body.

Bruce Smith is the author of five books of poems, most recently, Songs for Two Voices (University of Chicago, 2005). Poems in this collection have appeared in The Best American Poetry, 2003 and 2004. His fourth book, The Other Lover (University of Chicago, 2000) was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, The American Poetry Review, and many others. 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.