By Tracy K. Smith
What does the storm set free? Spirits stripped of flesh on their slow walk.
The poor in cities learn: when there is no place to lie down, walk.
At night, the streets are minefields. Only sirens drown out the cries.
If you’re being followed, hang on to yourself and run — no — walk.
I wandered through evenings of lit windows, laughter inside walls.
The sole steps amid streetlamps, errant stars. Nothing else below walked.
When we believed in the underworld, we buried fortunes for our dead.
Low country of dogs and servants, where ghosts in gold-stitched robes walk.
Old loves turn up in dreams, still livid at every slight. Show them out.
This bed is full. Our limbs tangle in sleep, but our shadows walk.
Perhaps one day it will be enough to live a few seasons and return to ash.
No children to carry our names. No grief. Life will be a brief, hollow walk.
My father won’t lie still, though his legs are buried in trousers and socks.
But where does all he knew — and all he must now know — walk?
Tracy K. Smith‘s poem is from her book “Life on Mars” (2011, Graywolf Press), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry earlier this year. She is the author of two other collections of poetry: “Duende” (Graywolf, 2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, and “The Body’s Question” (Graywolf, 2003), winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith teaches creative writing at Princeton University.
You can watch our profile of Smith here.