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 The New Yorker, The Guardian, The American Literary Review, Boston Review, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. He was born and raised in New Orleans, LA. His first collection of poems, Counting Descent, will be published by Write Bloody Publishing in September 2016.
Mirabeau St. is alive with the bass of Cash Money Records and the pop
of crawfish boiling, their small bodies exploding inside skintight shells.
The driveway to our garage, and the rim that hangs above it, a slice
of suburb in this mixed income corner of the city. It makes our home
a centerpiece. Older boys come knock on the door,
balls tucked on hips, to see if I want to play. I am too
young, of course, to understand the false pretense of preteen youth—
to know they would have played without me if they could. All I saw
were the boys I admired standing on my porch, asking me to join them.
The summer concrete sweats under our feet. My outstretched arms
crisscrossing the court, beckoning for a chance to become hero.
When the game is over, and we sit along the sidewalk, they knock
the back of my shoulder, palms open, nod their heads upwards and say,
Good game, lil’ nigga. When the boys leave, I saunter into the house.
Mom standing over red beans simmering on the stove, baby brother
crawling under the dining room table. I walk straight to him, chest still
full of interminable pride, pick him up and say, What’s up, lil’ nigga?
Mom’s spoon of beans splatter onto the counter, the viscous sauce
oozing onto the ground. What the hell did you just say? I am unprepared
for this shame. I put my brother down, heaves now breaking
from his tiny chest. She comes over, grabs a handful of my collar.
Boy, don’t let me hear you say that again. The beans boiling
over on the stove. A mess left across the floor.
How To Fight
My favorite part of class
was always the spelling bee.
One by one children would
slip on syllables until there
were only a few of us left.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe weren’t allowed to write
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxanything down as we stood
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxin front of the class, so I used
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxmy fingers to trace an outline
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxin the air of words Mrs. Roberts
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxread from her blue dictionary.
We didn’t say certain words in
my home because we were told
they could hurt people,
but words were the only
way I ever knew how to fight.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSpelling bees were a battleground
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwhere teachers trained me
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto wield language as a
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxtool & fist & weapon & warning
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto those who would rather
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxmake an outline out of me.
My Jump Shot
My jump shot be all elbow and no wrist.
My jump shot be asking what a follow through is.
My jump shot be hard to look at.
My jump shot be Medusa.
My jump shot be the leftovers you don’t really want to eat.
My jump shot be the fridge that don’t work.
My jump shot be the sour milk in your cereal.
My jump shot be getting picked last by the other jump shots.
My jump shot be old spaghetti.
My jump shot be gluten-free.
My jump shot be Michael Jordan when he was seven.
My jump shot be spending too much time in the library.
My jump shot be making everybody else feel better about their jump shot.
My jump shot be asking why we didn’t stick to soccer.
My jump shot be code-switching.
My jump shot be making people nervous just because it’s a jump shot.
My jump shot be the only jump shot in class.
My jump shot be getting asked to speak on behalf of all the other jump shots.
My jump shot be wondering why people think all jump shots are the same.
My jump shot be trying to explain how jump shots come in all shapes and sizes.
My jump shot be sounding like it’s talking about snowflakes.
My jump shot be a snowflake.
My jump shot be a home.
My jump shot be the only jump shot I’ve ever had.