Patricia Smith


Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (2017), winner of an NAACP Image Award and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle of the human and environmental cost of Hurricane Katrina which was nominated for a National Book Award; and Teahouse of the Almighty, a 2005 National Poetry Series selection published by Coffee House Press. Smith collaborated with the photographer Michael Abramson on the book Gotta Go Gotta Flow: Life, Love, and Lust on Chicago’s South Side From the Seventies (2015). Her work has appeared in Poetry magazine, the Paris Review, the New York Times, TriQuarterly, Tin House, the Washington Post, and in both Best American Poetry and Best American Essays. Source  


What to Tweak

Italicized excerpts are from an Aug. 31, 2005 e-mail from Marty Bahamonde to his boss Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bahamonde was one of the only FEMA employees in New Orleans at the time. 



Aug. 31, 12:20 p.m. Re: New Orleans


Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here are some

things you might not know. 


Rainbows warp when you curse them.

I have held a shiver of black child against my body. 

The word river doesn’t know edges.

God wouldn’t do this. 

There’s a Chevy growing in that tree. 

Here, I am so starkly white. 

Sometimes bullets make perfect sense.

Eventually the concrete will buckle.

They won’t stop screeching at me.

I have passed out all my gum.

So many people are thirsty. 

A kid breathes wet against my thigh. 

He calls me father. 


Hotels are kicking people out…


No one is prepared for their sulking shadows.

They sully sleek halls, leave smudges on grand glass.

They double negative, sport clothes limp with ache.

These people don’t know this place, 

this costly harbor where they have always pointed,

eyes bucked and overwhelmed, 

giddy with the conjure of mirrored silver

and whole cups dedicated to tea.

In the sudden midst of glorious this, 

they fill their cavernous pockets with faith.

Why didn’t we bolt the doors

before they began to dream?


thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water…


The weakened mob veers into the open for breath. 

Ashy babies bellow, B-boys hurl gold-toothed [   ],

everyone asks for food. And the heat singes art

on bare backs, sucks tears from parched skin. 

It’s true there is no food, but water is everywhere.

The demon has chapped their rusty ankles, 

reddened the throats of babies, smashed homes to mist. 

It is water that beats down without taking a breath

and points its dank mossy finger at their faith.

I have killed you, it patters.

I have bled you dry.


Hundreds still being rescued from homes.


Or not.

Death has an insistent iron smell, oversweet rot

loud enough to wither certain woods.

Behind sagging doors specters swirl, 

grow huge-limbed, stink brilliance.

And up on the roofs of tombs, 

sinking mothers claw the sky,

pray the rising river away from their scream.

The moon refuses to illuminate their overtures, 

winking dim then winking shut.

From the papery peaks of three-flats,

shots and weeping in the starless dark.

If you listen, you can hear the dying.

It creaks odd and high, 

a song slowly larger than the singer. 


Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome. Plans in works to address the critical need. 


Stifle the stinking, shut down the cameras, 

wave Dubya down from the sky.

Subtract the babies, unarm flailers, 

Hose that wailing [   ] down!

Draw up a blueprint, consider detention, 

throw them some cash from a bag.

Tell them it’s God, ply them with preachers, 

padlock the rest of the map.

Hand them a voucher, fly in some Colonel, 

twist the volume knob hard.

Turn down the TV, distract them with vision, 

pull out your hammer and nail. 

Sponge off their shoulders, suckle their children, 

prop them upright for the lens. 

Tolerate ranting, dazzle with card tricks, 

pin flags on absent lapels. 

Try not to breathe them, fan them with cardboard, 

say that their houses will rise. 

Play them some music, swear you hear engines, 

drape their stooped bodies with beads. 

Salute their resilience, tempt them with future, 

surrender your shoes to the mud.

Promise them trailers, pass out complaint forms, 

draft a law wearing their names. 

Say help is coming, say help is coming, 

then say that help’s running late. 

Shrink from their clutches, lie to their faces, 

explain how the levies grew thin. 

Mop up the vomit, cringe at their crudeness, 

audition their daughters for rape.

Stomp on their sleeping, outrun the gangsters, 

pass out American flags.


DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get

the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out. 


Breathing bladed, blood tinged black, 

their stark diseases mystify, ooze unbridled.

Heat stuns their grip on history, 

so they keep attempting to walk back

into remembered days of weather

that never grew more difficult than rain.

They crave the reign of simple delta,

when skinned pig, peppered collards, 

and a bottle of red heat signaled a day gone right.

So they keep trying to walk, to force their feet

into the now-obscenity of a straight line, 

to begin with that first blessing—forward, forward, 

not getting the joke of their paper shoes, 

not knowing the sidewalks are gone.




Thanks for update. Anything specific I need to do

or tweak?






Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:





Violence & War


Literary Devices:


the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words appearing in succession


an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference


a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic