Acting director Laurie Hollinger chose this poem as a powerful example of how the ghazal form can be used to make a point. Here, previous Center guest and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith chose “our name” as the radif (repeated phrase at the end of each couplet), ending with a haunting chant for the loss of what has been stolen. Please join us on the next two Tuesday evenings (January 21 and 28) as we learn more about ghazals and the ghazal poets with RCAH’s own Guillermo Delgado at our annual workshop series, Read a Poet / Write a Poem.
by Tracy K. Smith
The sky is a dry pitiless white. The wide rows stretch on into death.
Like famished birds, my hands strip each stalk of its stolen crop: our name.
History is a ship forever setting sail. On either shore: mountains of men,
Oceans of bone, an engine whose teeth shred all that is not our name.
Can you imagine what will sound from us, what we’ll rend and claim
When we find ourselves alone with all we’ve ever sought: our name?
Or perhaps what we seek lives outside of speech, like a tribe of goats
On a mountain above a lake, whose hooves nick away at rock. Our name
Is blown from tree to tree, scattered by the breeze. Who am I to say what,
In that marriage, is lost? For all I know, the grass has caught our name.
Having risen from moan to growl, growl to a hound’s low bray,
The voices catch. No priest, no sinner has yet been taught our name.
Will it thunder up, the call of time? Or lie quiet as bedrock beneath
Our feet? Our name our name our name our fraught, fraught name.
From Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith, published by Graywolf Press.