Patricia Smith

Posted in 2022-2023 Readings and Talks

Patricia Smith Headshot

January 24, 2023 at 7:00PM ET

Moderated by Carolyn Forché


10-Year-Old Shot Three Times, but She’s Fine

Dumbfounded in hospital whites, you are picture-book
itty-bit, floundering in bleach and steel. Braids untwirl
and corkscrew, you squirm, the crater in your shoulder
spews a soft voltage. On a TV screwed into the wall
above your head, neon rollicks. A wide-eyed train
engine perfectly smokes, warbles a song about forward.

Who shot you, baby?
I don’t know. I was playing.
You didn’t see anyone?
I was playing with my friend Sharon.
I was on the swing
and she was
Are you sure you didn’t—
No, I ain’t seen nobody but Sharon. I heard
people yelling though, and

Each bullet repainted you against the brick, kicked
you a little sideways, made you need air differently.
You leaked something that still goldens the boulevard.
I ain’t seen nobody, I told you.
And at A. Lincoln Elementary on Washington Street,
or Jefferson Elementary on Madison Street, or Adams
Elementary just off the Eisenhower Expressway,
we gather the ingredients, if not the desire, for pathos:

an imploded homeroom, your empty seat pulsating
with drooped celebrity, the sometime counselor
underpaid and elsewhere, a harried teacher struggling
toward your full name. Anyway your grades weren’t
all that good. No need to coo or encircle anything,
no call for anyone to pull their official white fingers
through your raveled hair, no reason to introduce
the wild notion of loving you loud and regardless.

Oh, and they’ve finally located your mama, who
will soon burst in with her cut-rate cure of stammering
Jesus’ name. Beneath the bandages, your chest crawls
shut. Perky ol’ Thomas winks a bold-faced lie from
his clacking track, and your heart monitor hums
a wry tune no one will admit they’ve already heard.

Elsewhere, 23 seconds rumble again and again through
Sharon’s body. Boom, boom, she says to no one.

From Incendiary Art (Triquarterly Books, 2017)


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