Tracy K. Smith

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.