Episode 5: Tracy K. Smith & Donald Revell


by Tracy K. Smith


 The earth is dry and they live wanting.
Each with a small reservoir
Of furious music heavy in the throat.
They drag it out and with nails in their feet
Coax the night into being. Brief believing.
A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies.
And in this night that is not night,
Each word is a wish, each phrase
A shape their bodies ache to fill— 

            I’m going to braid my hair
       Braid many colors into my hair
            I’ll put a long braid in my hair
       And write your name there

They defy gravity to feel tugged back.
The clatter, the mad slap of landing. 


And not just them. Not just
The ramshackle family, the tíos,
not just the bailaor
Whose heels have notched
And hammered time
So the hours flow in place
Like a tin river, marking
Only what once was.
Not just the voices of scraping
Against the river, nor the hands
Nudging them farther, fingers
Like blind birds, palms empty, 
Echoing. Not just the women
With sober faces and flowers
In their hair, the ones who dance
As though they’re burying
Memory—one last time— 
Beneath them.
                        And I hate to do it here.
To set myself heavily beside them.
Not now that they’ve proven
The body a myth, a parable
For what not even language
Moves quickly enough to name.
If I call it pain, and try to touch it
With my hands, my own life,
It lies still and the music thins,
A pulse felt for through garments. 
If I lean into the desire it starts from— 
If I lean unbuttoned into the blow
Of loss after loss, love tossed
Into the ecstatic void—
It carries me with it farther,
To chords that stretch and bend
Like light through colored glass.
But it races on, toward shadows
Where the world I know
And the world I fear
Threaten to meet. 


There is always a road,
The sea, dark hair, dolor. 

Always a question
Bigger than itself— 

            They say you’re leaving Monday

            Why can’t you leave on Tuesday?

Odysseus Hears of the Death of Kalypso

by Donald Revell

All their songs are of one hour
Before dawn, when the birds begin. 
I sing another. 
In helpless midday, at the hour
Even sparrows have no heart to shrill
Comes news . . . Suddenly, the unimaginable
Needs imagination and finds none. 

Violet ocean only nothing. 
Smoke of thyme and of cedar, 
Ornate birds, nothing. 
Even a god who came here, 
Hearing a sweet voice, 
Would find only old fires now, 
Brittle in the blackened trees. 

She was mast and sail. She was
A stillness pregnant with motion, 
Adorable to me as, all my life, 
I have hidden a cruel, secret ocean
In sinews and in sleep and cowardice. 
She forgave me. Once, she wept for me. 
Our child died then, and she is with him.