Four Poems by Clint Smith

Playground Elegy

The first time I slid down a slide my mother 
told me to hold my hands in towards the sky

something about gravity, weight distribution,
& feeling the air ripple through your fingers.

I remember reaching the bottom, smile consuming 
half of my face, hands still in the air because 

I didn't want it to stop. Ever since, this defiance 
of gravity has always been synonymous with feeling alive.

When I read of the new child, his body strewn across 
the street, a casket of bones and concrete I wonder how 

many times he slid down the slide. How many times 
he defied gravity to answer a question in class. Did he 

raise his hands for all of them? Does my mother regret 
this? That she raised a black boy growing up to think 

that raised hands made me feel more alive. That raised hands 
meant I was alive. That raised hands meant I would live.


One night
when I was twelve years old
on a field trip some place
I can’t remember, my friends 
and I bought supersoakers

and turned the hotel parking lot
into our arena of saturation.
We hid behind cars
running through the darkness
that lay between the streetlights.
Seditious laughter ubiquitous 
across the pavement.

Within ten minutes 
my father came outside
grabbed me by the forearm
and led me inside to our room
with an unfamiliar grip.

Before I could invoke objection,
acquaint him with how foolish
he had made me look in front
of my friends,
he derided me for being so naïve.

Told me I couldn’t be out here 
acting the same as these white boys—
can’t be pretending to shoot guns
can’t be running in the dark
can’t be hiding behind anything
other than your own teeth.

I know now how scared
he must have been,
how easily I could have fallen
into the obsolescence of the night.
That some man would mistake
this water for a good reason
to wash all of this away.


I scrub the shower once a week.
Put the washcloth down 
with one hand,
pick the sponge up 
with the other.
The interplay between bleach & soap 
rest heavy in the back of my throat.

I get on my hands and knees 
& scrub
while the shower is still running.
Pellets pummeling my back,
an unfettered tango 
of hygienics and submission.

On the days I scrub the hardest,
I don't know 
whether the residue is coming 
from my body 
or the things that it has 
previously left behind.

When Hiding in the Mountains Isn’t Enough

I have tried to bury your 
syllables somewhere in these 
mountains. Blindfolded myself 
so that I would never know where
you lay. Rendered your name more 
grenade than seed. Thought this soil 
& granite would suffocate the explosion
beneath my feet. But you are still the vibrations 
I feel with every step. White noise under the earth. 


Until I forget that you are even there.


Clint Smith is a teacher, poet, and doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University. He is a National Poetry Slam champion, an Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, and has served a cultural ambassador for the US Department of State. He has been featured on, NBC News, and TVOne’s Verses and Flow. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in GRAVTAS, Off the Coast, and elsewhere. He enjoys wool socks, burritos, and pickup soccer – though not necessarily all at the same time. 


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