And Then She Owns You
Poem by Patricia Smith. Photo by Kees Terberg.

Try not to look down. There is a nastiness
slowing your shoes, something you shouldn’t step in.
It’s shattered beads, stomped orchids, vomit--
such stupid beauty.

Beauty you can punch a manicured finger
into and through, beauty that doesn’t rely
on any sentence the sun chants, it’s whiskey
swelter blown scarlet.

Call this something else. Last night it had a name,
a name wedged between an organ’s teeth, a name
pumping a good girl unawares, a curse word.
Wail it, regardless.

Weak light, bleakly triumphant, will unveil scabs,
snippets of filth music, cars on collapsed veins.
The whole of gray doubt slithers on solemn skin.
Call her New Orleans.

Each day she wavers, not knowing how long she
can stomach the introduction of needles,
the brash, boozed warbling of bums with neon crowns,
necklaces raining.

She tries on a voice, which sounds like cigarettes,
pubic sweat, brown spittle lining a sax bell,
the broken heel on a drag queen’s scarlet slings.
Your kind of music.

Weirdly in love, you rumba her edges, drink
fuming concoctions, lick your lukewarm breakfast
directly from her crust. Go on, admit it.
You are addicted

to her brick hips, the thick swerve she elicits,
the way she kisses you, her lies wide open.
She frequents alleys, crevices, basement floors.
Hell, let her woo you.

This brand of romance dims the worth of soldiers,
folds and cracks the back, sips manna from muscle,
whispers Leave your life. Pack your little suitcase,
flee what is rigid

and duly prescribed. Let her touch that raw space
between calm and cock, the place that scripts such jazz.
Let her pen letters addressed to your asking.
You s-s-stutter
 New Orleans, p-please. Don’t. Blue is the color
stunning your tongue. At least the city pretends
to remember to pretend to be listening.
She grins with glint tooth,

wiping your mind blind of the wife, the children,
the numb ritual of job and garden plot.
Gently, she leads you out into the darkness
and makes you drink rain.

- Previously Published in Blood Dazzler

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