Tracy K. Smith


When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.


When the freighters inch past in the distance
The men load their small boats.  They motor out,
Buzzing like mosquitoes, aimed at the iron
Side of the blind ship as it creeps closer. 

They have guns.  They know the sea like it
Is their mother, and she is not well.  Her fish
Are gone.  She heaves barrels leaking disease
Onto the shores.  When she goes into a fit,

She throws a curse upon the land, dragging
Houses, people to their deaths.  She glows
In a way she should not.  She tastes of industry.
No one is fighting for her, and so they fight.

By night, they load their boats and motor out,
And by day, they aim their guns at the ships,
Climbing aboard.  It is clear what they want.
The white men scramble.  Some fight back.

When one is taken, the whole world sits up
To watch.  When the pirates fall, the world
Smiles to itself, thanking goodness.  They
Show the black faces and the dead black bodies

On TV.  When the pirates win, after the great
White ships return to their own shores,
There is a party that lasts for days.





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Tracy K. Smith is the author of two previous collections of poems--Duende, and The Body's question--and Life on Mars, which will be published in May.  She teaches at Princeton University.




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