The Great Pat Smith American Dream Poem

I have been teaching poetry for too long
I know this
everyone else thinks so too
the trick’s to clear out before they say so

In a dream I am leaving
crossing Central Avenue
wider now than the Rio Grande
heading down and west
past Jack’s and the bloodbank
past Gizmo’s and Blazer finance
saying hello
to my sad downtown that was always waiting

I am taking a job
becoming the best cashier in Albuquerque
my register sings
I call out orders:
sunnyside up
once over lightly

I smell like french fries and Evening in Paris
my nails are polished
my smock is pink
my hands drip nickels

all the regulars call me Patti
spelled with an i
they eat me up
while the juke box plays
Lacy J Dalton
Willie and Waylon
I hum right along
I know all the words
I am cashing in

One day my customer is Busby Berkeley
He leans on my counter  lights a cigar
looks me up and down
likes what he sees
and says in a wise voice
Girlie, can you swim?
I show him my medals from the 400 freestyle
the 1958 First Annual Pine Point Maine Open Water Classic
He says Esther Williams is making her comeback
They are calling the movie Born to Swim
if I meet him tonight at 8 at the Y
he’ll let me audition for the chorus

Suddenly it is all so simple
there are no limits
to all the color light can turn water
my stage name is Tammy Aphrodite

I am one of the girls
we swan dive from volcanoes and Grecian Columns
stroking tandem, we angle down
then bubble up like spangled lilies
slim fish chlorine virgins
who cares about tenure
I lose the need to breathe
I could stay down forever

In a world all light and water
I am the wet,
the wordless angel

 Last Tuesday Lee and I (with our granddaughter Hannah) drove up to Albuquerque to the memorial for our friend Patricia Clark Smith. We've known her for a long time. Indeed, on the drive up I tried to remember when I first met her. I think it was in one of those great bars that Albuquerque and Santa Fe used to have back in the 70s. The Thunderbird in Placitas, Claude's in Santa Fe, Smokey Joe's on the corner of Central and University in Albuquerque, Raphael's Silver Cloud out on the highway north. It must have been summertime, 102 hot like it was last Tuesday, muggy, some nameless band playing, maybe a jukebox. I was drinking and standing looking at the dancers and this little woman appeared out of the crowd of rockers. She was dressed part-Indian, part country and western. She had a roundish smiling face and her eyes twinkled. Yes, her eyes really twinkled. Who would guess she was a PhD from Yale? Who would even care? I certainly didn't. She asked me to dance and she grabbed my hands and out we went into the crowd of dancers. And we danced.

Since the memorial Lee and I have been mulling over Pat and her death. For whatever reason we have been feeling sort of empty, like something is not there. She was my generation, and like so many of our peers--important workers in the fields of culture and literature--, Pat's not very well represented on the internet. The talks people gave were wonderful, but mostly the people talked about Pat as a wonderful friend and colleague in the university. It was good to see old friends, especially our publishing colleague John Crawford, Pat's lover (aka husband), the longtime independent publisher of Westend Press. But only poet and performer Joy Harjo represented the alternate universe of poem-writing outside the university, that place where I feel most at home. Well, that's not quite true. Poet David Johnson, who like Pat has roots in each world, was the last speaker. He was  Pat's friend and colleague in the English Department at UNM, but he also shared with her the love of literatures that range far beyond the accepted canon (especially was back in the 70s when they started stirring the pot)--the poetries of Native America, women and men of color, of the various nations of Latin America. In concluding his talk David read from her book Changing Your Story "The Great Pat Smith American Dreampoem." Listening to the poem (a man's voice, a woman's poem) I thought then that I would put the poem on my blog.

I lose the need to breathe
I could stay down forever

In a world all light and water
I am the wet,
the wordless angel


Snaps of the daze said...

Just read this, recognized Jacks (ate cheap pizza and drank beer there in the early '70s...gave plasma on Central...read further...used to go to the Thunderbird in Placitas and Raphael's S C near Algodones too...So Bobby I'm wondering if we met back then and not just at the LC Zen Center... Gassho...Joshua Rose

Bobby Byrd said...

Joshua, Well, good to hear from you. I always thought you looked familiar. Certainly we must have crossed paths although those bars were pretty dark and full with pretty ladies and handsome men and so we just didn't say hello. I gave plasma once or twice, looking for work. Did the manpower thing. The Wife & 2 Kids Blues. Good times, though. I liked Pat's image of Central Avenue wider than the Rio Grande. I know that feeling. And I enjoyed your photo blog a lot. Plus the nice portrait of you. Love to you guys. Hope to see you soon. bb

Snaps of the daze said...

...and dare I say Okie's? on University and Central...10 cent beer night?...oy! Love to you as well my friend!