Two Poems

Poetry / Clint Smith

waiting on a heartbeat

the doctor says you are there       even though we cannot hear you       & you know what they say about the tree       falling in the forest       & i know i have never heard a tree       i could not see       but i have seen trees i could not hear         little one         are you the tree or the forest or the sound we cannot hear         perhaps you are all three         you are half the size of a fingernail they say       & every time i hear that         i look down at my cuticles       & imagine you sitting there telling me it's okay       there is nothing       to worry about       there is joy in being a father to a mystery       there is grace in watching the lilac       & knowing its petals will not expand before your eyes             only after you have left             & you little one       are my daily reminder         that you do not go to a botanical garden to watch the flowers grow       you go to give thanks for what has already blossomed

The New York Times reports that 200 Iraqi civilians have been killed by U.S. military airstrikes

after Hanif Abdurraqib

& the man on television calls it     unfortunate yet inevitable collateral damage     & i wonder what it is that turns mourning into a metonym         or a proclamation of conjecture         & i read his bio & see that he has a wife       & i can’t imagine he would call it inevitable if her body were pulled from the quiet implosion of scattered rubble         & i see that he has a son         & i can’t imagine he would call the boy who bears his name collateral in someone else’s war       & i see that he has a daughter         & i think of what it might mean for someone to render her final breath an inescapable reality of global politics             & i understand what he means       i know he means that war is callous & unforgiving       that a militant can surround himself with a dozen women & children so that the pilot must decide between a target & the soft ache of his own heart’s detonation       i do not misunderstand the cruelty of war       but i regret the way we talk about its casualties                 how their lives become tacit admonitions       how the tyranny of a border made out of thin air means that bombs are only dropped on one side of it       but i too have felt the empathy corrode inside the most cavernous parts of me       have taken the quarters from my pocket & used them to cover my collusion       who among us has not used spare change to ornament our contrition       laid a garland of rations atop the bodies of names we do not know       & i’m not sure what it means for us       not to be the one to fire the bullet       but to behave as if the bullet always belonged in that chest & not our own

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 a recipient of the 2017 Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New Republic, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Counting Descent (2016), which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He was born and raised in New Orleans.