Until I can understand why you
Fled, why you are willing to bleed,
Why you deserve what I must be
Willing to cede, let me imagine
You are my mother in Montgomery,
Alabama, walking to campus
Rather than riding the bus. I know
What they call you, what they
Try to convince you you lack.
I know your ankles, the sudden
Thunder of your laugh. Until
I want to give you what I myself deserve,
Let me love you by loving her.
Your sister in a camp in Turkey,
Sixteen, deserving of everything:
Let her be my daughter, who has
Curled her neat hands into fists,
Insisting nothing is fair and I
Have never loved her. Naomi,
Lips set in a scowl, young heart
Ransacking its cell. Let me lend
Her passion to your sister, and
Love her for her living rage, her
Need for more, and now, and all.
Let me leap from sleep if her voice
Sounds out, afraid, from down the hall.
I have seen men like your father
Walking up Harrison Street
Now that the days are getting longer.
Let me love them as I love my own
Father, whom I phoned once
From a valley in my life
To say what I feared I’d never
Adequately said, voice choked,
Stalled, hearing the silence spread
Around us like weather. What
Would it cost me to say it now,
To a stranger’s father, walking home
To our separate lives together?
Tracy K. Smith is the current U.S. Poet Laureate, and the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor of the Humanities and the Director of the Creative Writing Program at the Lewis Center for the Arts. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for her book of poetry Life on Mars. She attended Seeking Refuge: Faith-Based Approaches to Forced Migration and wrote this poem out of what she heard.