National Poetry Month Day 17: Patricia Smith





Still Wielding My Useless Shovel

(Golden shovel on a line from Vera Nazarian’s Dreams of the Compass Rose)

In the throes of my 41st fatherless Tuesday, I am strapped deep and down in
the gut of a turbulent Boeing—keyboarding, wrestling dactyls. I wonder if the
desert, a hundred grandiose death-drops below us, is still that celluloid desert,
the gilt murderer, the sole skin on earth that refuses its scar. I know that the
only way to resurrect my father is to claw away at what covers him, the only
God I know said let’s bury him deep, so now he is far under everything. God,
is there a bottom to this sand, this road dirt, this alley, this lurching air? Is
a father always below me, lifting a blanched white hand from the bottom of a
well, a tomb that droops deeper as I reach? It seems I’m breathless as well,

in the dank core of a growled-down blues lyric, in
the snarl of love. I grieve upward and south. In the
desert of daughter, I keen myself basic, refuse to desert
the dimming specter of him. I will never admit that the
only daddy I call on now is the dead one, that the only
god that glistens was human enough to leave me. My god
is peerless, gilt Arkansas grin, bowlegged, maws-lovin’, is
a sloped-porch griot, hymn whistler, bid whist bragger, a
well-known brown liquor sipper. He could never dwell

in all this ending, in
the shifty clutch of the
desert. Above him, the desert,
the alley, the forest floor, the sinuous road, the
only, the ever, the still-swerving air, the raucous under. Only
godless girls resent their fathers’ rest—because that other God
is a sly and holy jokester when it comes to love. Undaunted, He is
a tireless contrivance—lifting me, pushing my daddy down. God is a
well with sky as its bottom. My father ends and ends. I end and end as well.

Patricia Smith is the author of eight books of poetry, including Incendiary Art, winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Award, the 2017 LA Times Book Prize, the 2018 NAACP Image Award and final-ist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist. She is a Guggenheim fellow, an NEA grant recipient, a former fellow at Civitella Ranieri, Yaddo and MacDowell, a Cave Canem faculty member, and a professor at the College of Staten Island and in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College. More from this author →