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Joy and Hope and All That: A Tribute to Lucille Clifton

Homage to My Smile

After Lucille Clifton


This smile be big smile.
Take up all the space existing and not existing.
Takes like the white of my teeth.
Glistens itself a messiah
bathed in the womb of a woman
too dark for fetus to inhere but light enough to carry the seed and rinse the nativity away.
This smile don’t worry about the second coming.
Don’t tell Mary her eyes are unmarked,
that trauma is pawed black and orange coat.
Hides the colonizer behind fat lips.
This smile is magic.
Does all the gruesome work of transplanting flower into new bed, taking care of fragile things.
Not white,
pristine brown.
This smile be big smile.
Occupy a room and reclaim its time.
Be time turner.
Before chains.
This smile was never enslaved
Before wanes of pale face across open atlantic.
Before tempest tost temptation to throw trepidation overboard,
It goes where it wants to go.
This smile be free smile.

Pearly blacks.

This smile gets to smile.
More than just a couple of whiles
How long it took for my grin to grow into these clothes
To be model on magazine.
Fashionably colored.
And these frowns wish to play coloring book.
To gaunt in my grin like cheat day racism.
But this smile be big in all the right places, cinched everywhere else.
Around cream necks.
Or white throats.
This smile be boa constrictor.
Ain’t finna let these false gods and upturned sneers go out without a fight.
This smile be danger sign.
Bite so hard don’t get too close,
you gon mess around and be swallowed whole!

This smile knows when to bark and when to bite.
Knows how to spit and recite rights like bullets.
Won’t you celebrate with me!
That I have not had to fire into crowds in a minute.
That I have not had to chomp on somebody in a minute.
That something has tried to kill me and hasn’t succeeded in a minute!
This smile survives.
I have known it to be immortalized beside fossils
To go as far back as seed in ice age and still,
finds a way to bloom year round.

Nathaniel Isiah Swanson

Nathaniel Isiah Swanson

Nathaniel Isiah Swanson is a 17 year old artist from Brooklyn who enjoys poetry, prose, painting and playing various instruments ...