Clint Smith

Two Poems

Volume 17:4, Fall 2016 
Slam Issue


what the cathedral said to the black boy

come inside child
rest yourself
it’s okay to want to be held
ain’t we all just trying to be
some type of sanctuary for someone?
for every year we are not destroyed
do they not remind us what a miracle
it is to have lasted this long?
amid this plunder
amid all this wreckage
take a breath and call it prayer
take a step and call living
what that ocean tell you child?
that they’re frightened of you?
they fear you because they ain’t
ready for your type of holy
close your eyes
those stained-glass shadows
all we got is what we name ourselves
otherwise I am just a room
you are just body
& we know how wrong that is


When Mom Braids my Sister’s Hair

Oprah usually plays on the TV in the background. Jess sits crisscross
applesauce in front of the couch, Mom sitting above her, legs
wrapped around either side of my small sister’s trembling frame, her
hair two hemispheres of Afro puff, a vertical equator of scalp running
its way onto the unseen side of her head. Two minutes in, and tears
are already streaking down her face, each circumnavigating freckles
before falling to the carpet below. The comb is a contestation of
plastic and naps, hair as uncooperative as it is remarkable. Jess keeps
crying and Mom despairs over the heaving child, You’re just as tender-
headed as your Auntie was. Mom wipes the wetness from her face,
leans over to kiss her forehead and stroke the nape of her neck.
Jess’ sobbing slows, and she smiles as Oprah gives a woman a new
house or a new car or some other shiny thing. Mom grabs three
pieces of hair, uses the magician in her fingers to slip the strands
between one another. She asks me to go stir the beans on the stove,
the crackling of the comb between hair indistinguishable from the gas
fire brewing beneath our Sunday dinner. I step onto the kitchen stool
and move the spoon slowly inside the pot, peeking over the counter
to watch the procession of thumbs and tresses continue, unsure how
such transformation is possible. Alright, you’re done. Jess hops up from
the carpet and runs to the mirror beaming as if the pain was never there.
Her new braids swinging from her head, a wreath of calla lilies in the wind.



Clint Smith is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the National Science Foundation. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and was a speaker at the 2015 TED Conference. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The American Literary Review, Boston Review, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. He is the author of Counting Descent (Write Bloody Publishing, 2016) and was born and raised in New Orleans.