What woke to war in me those years
When my daughter had first grown into
A solid self-centered self? I’d watch her
Sit at the table—well, not quite sit,
More like stand on one leg while
The other knee hovered just over the chair.
She wouldn’t lower herself, as if
There might be a fire, or a great black
Blizzard of waves let loose in the kitchen,
And she’d need to make her escape. No,
She’d trust no one but herself, her own
New lean always jittering legs to carry her—
Where exactly? Where would a child go?
To there. There alone. She’d rest one elbow
On the table—the opposite one to the bent leg
Skimming the solid expensive tasteful chair.
And even though we were together, her eyes
Would go half dome, shades dropped
Like a screen at some cinema the old aren’t
Let into. I thought I’d have more time! I thought
My body would have taken longer going
About the inevitable feat of repelling her,
But now, I could see even in what food
She left untouched, food I’d bought and made
And all but ferried to her lips, I could see
How it smacked of all that had grown slack
And loose in me. Her other arm
Would wave the fork around just above
The surface of the plate, casting about
For the least possible morsel, the tiniest
Grain of unseasoned rice. She’d dip
Into the food like one of those shoddy
Metal claws poised over a valley of rubber
Bouncing balls, the kind that lifts nothing
Or next to nothing and drops it in the chute.
The narrow untouched hips. The shoulders
Still so naïve as to stand squared, erect,
Impervious facing the window open
Onto the darkening dusk.
Tracy K. Smith will begin her tenure as the Poet Laureate of the United States in Fall 2017. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection Life On Mars and is the author, most recently, of the memoir Ordinary Light. She teaches writing at Princeton University.