Tracy K. Smith / "Existential Blues"

I just got Tracy K. Smith's first book of poems and I'm really digging them. She is an award-winning poet and now teaches at Princeton. Her new book Duende explores the concept of existential blues. Here's an interview with Smith and here's an excerpt from an article written by her, followed by her poem, Duende:

( [...] I love this concept of duende because it supposes that our poems are not things we create in order that a reader might be pleased or impressed (or, if you will, delighted or instructed); we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely. It is then that the duende beckons, promising to impart "something newly created, like a miracle," then it winks inscrutably and begins its game of feint and dodge, lunge and parry, goad and shirk; turning its back, nearly disappearing altogether, then materializing again with a bear-hug that drops you to the ground and knocks your wind out. You’ll get your miracle, but only if you can decipher the music of the battle, only if you’re willing to take risk after risk. Only, in other words, if you survive the effort. For a poet, this kind of survival is tantamount to walking, word by word, onto a ledge of your own making. You must use the tools you brought with you, but in decidedly different and dangerous ways. (source)

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 tios,
Primitos, 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 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, 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?