Bruce Smith

Monday we masked ourselves and thought about guns and babies: 

things with heft we could hold, things that could rip us apart,

things with crying and wish.  We could get them, we knew 

a guy, and why not the whole nation was walking heavy, packing, 

carrying the difference, only conceiving we went without.  Tuesday 

we played master and runaway slave, but which hatcheted one?  

Wednesday through Friday: suffragettes

with rolled up sleeves, 

pince-nez, and books hollowed out for the bomb, throwing 

ourselves in the way of the king’s horse, ready to disfigure a work

of art, ready to love or bungle as the need be.  There was more 

to the drunk weekend than was dreamt about in your philosophy, 

Señor.  Saturday, Sunday, the fluency and the terrors of self 

and state, the dream of carabinieri with Uzis guarding the bank – 

smagliante, dazzling in blue.  Did we want to blow up the bank 

or blow up the need?  Dream of explicit we.  Dream of furious

history.  Dream of kissing ourselves, kissing the need goodbye.  

The wind-blown tribes of us looking for onions, leeks, garlic –

the flavors of our captivity, our tongues made for unbearable,

baffling love and strange systems of sacrifice.  We sent an acoustic pulse

through the house that pinged off the submerged hull of the need.  

Did we make something then?  No, not then, not something, 

unless the sing through the autumn was something, unless feeling 

was something to ransack.  We began the waiting, the secret negotiation 

with the world in the form of pauses and burn, baby.  We began 

the work of Denmark Vesey and the other Dane, Prince Hamlet, 

if he were less princely.  We turned to drama and weapons and 

repeating.  We turned and turning we revised and cursed and obeyed

our ghosts by thinking, then rethinking, then acting badly, 

then dying by the plot.  We crawled back into the extortion racket

of the family.  Then the whiteness went, then the male stuff 

and with it our sympathies.  Was it better to know or love 

and which wanted language and which wanted unruly self 

applied like a compress to a wound.  The illuminated texts 

of matinees whose work was guns and kiss whose history 

was smoke and sky and little else.  The nation lost interest in us.  

Without the experience of need we needed self-punishment, 

and maybe another thing to blackmail success with.  One

boy’s scheme is another’s intercepted telepathy, one girl’s 

bafflement is another’s trance.  This must be the middle class: 

the All wrapped in hysteria like the bankroll of the hustler, 

a Benjamin masking the Washingtons.  A successful feed 

puts hunger and mother together at the right time.  A failed

need is a frenzy, need feeding on need, our selves as rivals 

to ourselves: wrestlers, fugitives, punitives, worriers, threats.

Found In Volume 43, No. 06
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  • Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
About the Author
Bruce Smith is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Devotions (2011).  The Other Lover (1999) was a finalist for the National Book Award as well as the Pulitzer Prize, and Silver and Information(1985) won the National Poetry Series.  Smith has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Arts.  He currently teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Syracuse University.