Three Poems – Clint Smith


When Maze and Frankie Beverly Come on in my House

Mama’s eyes close,
she raises the spatula
as if she were going to orchestrate
the gumbo into existence.
Turns the knob so that we feel
the bass thundering in the walls.

At the start of verse one,
	she points to Pops,
	walks over,
	shoulders oscillating back-and-forth
	between the melody.
	Pops does the same dance
	he's been doing since '73—
	left knee, right knee, pop, snap
	left knee, right knee, pop, snap
	on every other beat.
	The sort of dance that has a different
	iteration every decade but really
	it’s always been the same.

At the start of verse two,
	Pops drops his shoulder,
	bites his bottom lip,
	& does some sort of spin move
	pivoting on his left foot.
	When he does this it's unclear
	if he's hurt his back
	or if he's doing an unauthorized
	version of the sprinkler.
	Mama goes with it, ‘cuz she's fly
	like that, & has never left dad 
	hanging on the dance floor.

At the start of verse three,
	something is burning in the kitchen. 
	Their hands are clasped
	now, fingers interlocked,
	swinging each other back & forth.
	Their feet are now music
	of their own, the interplay between
	hollow wooden floors & electric guitar. 

	It's like they made the song
	just for them. A reminder
	of the playful manifestations of love,
	how the harmony of guitar &
	trumpet & bass & sweat 
	& Frankie's voice can create the sort
	of levity that ensures love lasts
	long after the song has stopped.

Letter From Barack Obama to Karl Marx Circa 2011
Come on, don't give me that look, Karl.
I know you're disappointed.
But to be fair you've made things
pretty tough out here.

Sure, I read the Communist Manifesto
in college, but didn't we all?
They hurl your name at me
at every rally, every speech.

Say I'm trying to take away
	their religion
	their money
	their freedom.

Right? I laughed at that last one too.
Like they know the first thing
about what is means to have 
your liberation thwarted, 

your agency made obsolete.
They always say you never 
really know until you're sitting 
in the chair yourself.

The dialectical opposition of the 
Oval Office an ever-present 
reality to me. 
But what do you expect?!

I can't hang your picture on the wall
or place a bust of your visage 
on the desk.
Who would you replace?

Dr. King?

I don't like that this is 
the space I occupy,
that there is no room here
for counter-hegemonic conceit.

Everything just keeps on turning, Karl
no matter whose hands
are on the wheel.

Ode to 9th & O NW – Washington D.C.
You hundred-year-old 
bastion of merriment
You crumbling icon
You hollow walls 
& sacrosanct floors
You kitchen where rice was burned
& whiskey spilled
You wondrous accident
You ephemeral cacophony
You crumbled piece of adulthood
You first taste of adulthood
You made laughter omnipresent
Wrapped seven of us within your 
walls, locked the door
& swallowed the key
You roommate shuffleboard
You millennial experiment
You eye of the gentrified storm
You still tryna be Duke Ellington
in a world full of yoga studios
Three years in your grasp 
& we watched them turn
the Boys & Girls Club 
into happy hour
It's something about how you sit
on the corner, at the intersection
of where I learned to tell someone
they made me feel like everything
& nothing all at once
How you made growing 
up existential
How one can be lulled into nostalgia
by the clamor of an audacious love.

About Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a teacher, writer, and doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, an Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, and has served a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. He has performed at the 2015 TED Conference, the U.S. Department of Education, and the IB Conference of the Americas. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Kinfolks, Still: The Journal, Off the Coast, Winter Tangerine Review, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. He was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and thinks cinnamon rolls are best served at room temperature. View all posts by Clint Smith

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