Is God being or pure force? The wind
Or what commands it? When our lives slow
And we can hold all that we love, it sprawls
In our laps like a gangly doll. When the storm
Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing
After all we’re certain to lose, so alive—
Faces radiant with panic.
So much we once coveted. So much
That would have saved us, but lived,
Instead, its own quick span, returning
To uselessness with the mute acquiescence
Of shed skin. It watches us watch it:
Our faulty eyes, our telltale heat, hearts
Ticking through our shirts. We’re here
to titter at the gimcracks, the naive tools,
The replicas of replicas stacked like bricks.
There’s green money, and oil in drums.
Pots of honey pilfered from a tomb. Books
Recounting the wars, maps of fizzled starts.
In the south wing, there’s a small room
Where a living man sits on display. Ask,
And he’ll describe the old beliefs. If you
Laugh, he’ll lower his head to his hands
And sigh. When he dies, they’ll replace him
With a video looping on ad infinitum.
Special installations come and go. “Love”
Was up for a season, followed by “Illness,”
Concepts difficult to grasp. The last thing you see
(After a mirror—someone’s idea of a joke?)
Is an image of the old planet taken from space.
Outside, vendors hawk t-shirts, three for eight.
We are here for what amounts to a few hours,
a day at most.
We feel around making sense of the terrain,
our own new limbs,
Bumping up against a herd of bodies
until one becomes home.
Moments sweep past. The grass bends
then learns again to stand.
Tracy K. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and educator who lives in Broolyn, NY.