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poetry Here nor There

The poet Clint Smith, born and raised in New Orleans, writes from a wistful perspective of the city “kept from becoming.”

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Here nor There

By Clint Smith

New Orleans is a bouquet of pixilated memories.
A caravan of embers that refuse to turn to ash.
I have tried to write these poems before, you know,
the ones about the infamous storm & its majestic

violence. The flood water that swallowed a city
& then sat still as night. I think often of the things
it took from us that we’ll never know we could
have had. Counterfactuals have always been a bed

of thorns in a room with nowhere else to lay your
head. To imagine what could have been but never
was. The Christmases with my children in the home
where I once opened presents. Kicking a soccer ball

with my daughter against the same playground wall
where I imagined a life of goals & glory. That home
is now silent as a sky of smoke. That wall is no longer
a wall but a smattering of bricks in a lonely field.

I tremble at what I already know is likely, that my
children will not know this city beyond the holidays
& funerals that bring them here. That I no longer
know the city I have always worn like a tattoo.

Nostalgia is a well-intentioned wound. I still remember
the city as something it was kept from becoming.
I am still looking for a language not covered in ash.
I am still mourning the loss of a life that never was.

Clint Smith is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University and has received fellowships fromCave Canem, the Art for Justice Fund, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the National Science Foundation. He is a National Poetry Slam champion and a recipient of the 2017 Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review. His writing has been published in The New YorkerThe AtlanticThe Paris ReviewThe New Republic, and other publications. He is the author of Counting Descent (2016), which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His debut nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed, is forthcoming from Little Brown. He was born and raised in New Orleans.