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  


Biting Back

Children do not grow up

as much as they grow away.

My son’s eyes are stones - flat, brown, fireless,

with no visible openings in or out.

His voice, when he cares to try it on,

hovers one-note in that killing place

where even the blues fidget.

Tight syllables, half spoken, half spat,

greet me with the warmth

of glint-tipped arrows. The air around him

hurts my chest, grows too cold to nourish,

and he stares past me to the open door of his room,

anxious for my patented stumbled retreat.


My fingers used to brush bits of the world

From his kinked hair,

but he moved beyond that mother shine

to whispered “fucks” on the telephone,

to the sweet mysteries of scalloped buttons

dotting the maps of young girls,

to the warped, frustrating truths of algebra,

to anything but me. Ancient, annoying apparatus,

I have unfortunately retained the ability to warm meat,

to open cans, to clean clothing

that has yellowed and stiffened.

I spit money when squeezed,

don’t try to dance in front of his friends,

and know that rap music cannot be stopped.

For these brief flashes of cool, I am tolerated in spurts.


At night I lay in my husband’s arms

and he tells me that these are things that happen,

that the world will tilt again

and our son will return, unannounced, as he was -

goofy and clinging, clever with words, stupefied by rockets.

And I dream on that.

One summer after camp,

twelve inches taller than the summer before,

my child grinned and said,

“Maybe a tree bit me.”


We laughed,

not knowing that was to be his last uttered innocence.

Only months later, eyes would narrow and doors would slam.

Now he is scowl, facial hair, knots of muscle. He is

Pimp, homey, pistol. He is man smell, grimy fingers,

red eyes, rolling dice. He is street, smoke, cocked cannon.

And I sit on his bare mattress after he’s left for school,

wonder at the simple jumble of this motherless world,

look for clues that some gumpopping teenage girl

now wears my face. Full of breastmilk and finger songs,

I stumble the street staring at other children,

gulping my dose of their giggles,

and cursing the trees for their teeth.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:




Literary Devices:


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


the absence of a conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so…) between phrases and within a sentence


conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic


joining two or more words to create a new word