The Body's Question

The Body's Question

by Tracy K. Smith

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Winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, The Body's Question debuts Tracy K. Smith's ambitious and engaging new voice

You are pure appetite. I am pure
Appetite. You are a phantom
In that far-off city where daylight
Climbs cathedral walls, stone by stolen stone.
--from "Self-Portrait as the Letter Y"

The Body


Winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, The Body's Question debuts Tracy K. Smith's ambitious and engaging new voice

You are pure appetite. I am pure
Appetite. You are a phantom
In that far-off city where daylight
Climbs cathedral walls, stone by stolen stone.
--from "Self-Portrait as the Letter Y"

The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith received the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African-American poet, selected by Kevin Young. Confronting loss, historical intersections with race and family, and the threshold between childhood and adulthood, Smith gathers courage and direction from the many disparate selves encountered in these poems, until, as she writes, "I was anyone I wanted to be."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“How delightful it is to fall under the lucid and quite more than lovely spell of Tracy K. Smith's debut collection. Smith's work is deceptively plain-spoken, but these are poems that are powerfully wrought, inspiring in all the clarity of their many gospel truths. The Body's Question announces a remarkable new voice, brilliantly bundled, ingeniously belted down.” —Lucie Brock-Broido
Library Journal
Winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first collection by an African American poet, this is a rich collection of stories, histories, and moments that glow with the clean, direct language of a charming new voice. Attuned to the music of the streets-and to her heart-Smith is nevertheless attentive to craft, always aware of the integrity of the line. The result is poetry that is seductive yet powerful, subtle yet certain: "There's a story told here/ By those of us who daydream/ To the music of crystal and steel." Though she explores themes of family, race, and loss, her poems exude a sense of joy or prayer. Her language is what William Carlos Williams would recognize today as being "in the American grain," touched as it is with Spanish, Spanglish, and the varying rich talk of the streets-"Not the flame, but what it promised." This is a rewarding book for any reader but will be especially of interest to African American and contemporary poetry collections.-Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Graywolf Press
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Product dimensions:
5.99(w) x 8.97(h) x 0.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Body's Question

By Tracy K. Smith

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2003 Tracy K. Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-391-4

Chapter One

SOMETHING LIKE DYING, MAYBE Last night, it was bright afternoon Where I wandered. Pale faces all around me. I walked and walked looking for a door. For some cast-off garment, looking for myself In the blank windows and the pale blank faces. I found my wristwatch from ten years ago And felt glad awhile. When it didn't matter anymore being lost, The sky clouded over and the pavement went white. I stared at my hands. Like new leaves, Light breaking through from behind. Then I felt your steady breathing beside me And the mess of blankets where we slept. I woke, touching ground gently Like a parachutist tangled in low branches. All those buildings, those marvelous bodies Pulled away as though they'd never known me. GOSPEL: JUAN We crossed the border Hours before dawn Through a hole Dug under a fence. We crossed Dressed as soldiers, Faces painted Mud green. The coyotes That promised We'd make it, gave us A straw broom To drag behind, Erasing our tracks. They gave us meat Drugged for the dogs. Farther off, There were engines, Voices, a light That swept the ground. We crossed On our bellies. I wonder If we'll ever stand up. CREDULITY We believe we are giving ourselves away, And so it feels good, Our bodies swimming together In afternoon light, the music That enters our window as far From the voices that made it As our own minds are from reason. There are whole doctrines on loving. A science. I would like to know everything About convincing love to give me What it does not possess to give. And then I would like to know how to live with nothing. Not memory. Nor the taste of the words I have willed you whisper into my mouth. SHADOW POEM You know me But the gauze that fetters the earth Keeps you from knowing We were souls together once Wave after wave of ether Alive outside of time I'm still there Though twice I curled Into a speck-sized marvel And waited In the wet earth of you Briefly human You fear everything And live by a single Inconstant light Listening Hearing nothing A radio stuck between stations The second time I played giddy music On my blinking heart Now I watch the dumb machine Of your body loving With the loveless wedge of you That made me When I want to tell you something I say it in a voice The shadow of water I don't wake you But the part of you That's still like me That rises above your body When your body Sinks into itself The part that doesn't Belong to you Knows what it hears You are not the only one Alive like that


Excerpted from The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith Copyright © 2003 by Tracy K. Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Tracy K. Smith received degrees from Harvard and Columbia Universities and a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. She currently lives and teaches in Brooklyn, New York.

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