Patricia Smith is an American poet, spoken-word performer, playwright, author, writing teacher, and former journalist. She has published poems in literary magazines and journals including TriQuarterly, Poetry, The Paris Review, and Tin House.
She is a four-time individual National Poetry Slam champion and appeared in the 1996 documentary SlamNation, which followed various poetry slam teams as they competed at the 1996 National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon.
Smith is a professor at the College of Staten Island, a student in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, and a resident in VONA and in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Residency Program.
The city’s streets are densely shelved with rows
of salt and packaged hair. Intent on air,
the funk of crave and function comes to blows
with any smell that isn’t oil—the blare
of storefront chicken settles on the skin
and mango spritzing drips from razored hair.
The corner chefs cube pork, decide again
on cayenne, fry in grease that’s glopped with dust.
The sizzle of the feast adds to the din
of children, strutting slant, their wanderlust
and cussing, plus the loud and tactless hiss
of dogged hustlers bellowing past gusts
of peppered breeze, that fatty, fragrant bliss
in skillets. All our rampant hunger tricks
us into thinking we can dare dismiss
the thing men do to boulevards, the wicks
their bodies be. A city, strapped for art,
delights in torching them—at first for kicks,
to waltz to whirling sparks, but soon those hearts
thud thinner, whittled by the chomp of heat.
Outlined in chalk, men blacken, curl apart.
Their blindly rising fume is bittersweet,
although reversals in the air could fool
us into thinking they weren’t meant as meat.
Our sons don’t burn their cities as a rule,
born, as they are, up to their necks in fuel.