Character Study

by Patricia Smith

As soon as I scripted a line that blessed him
with a functioning heart, he ambled naked
out of my novel and squeezed his squirming head
through the space in a double-spaced line. He gaped
at me, eyes wounded by my indecision.
Shoving at a weakened verb, he ripped the prose
wide open, bled his twisted smell on the keys,
laughed maniacally at the optimistic
progression of page numbers. His searching mouth,
which had been written as both empty howl and
open door slammed shut, was crammed with misplaced teeth.
He was nude and ashy, swathed in stiff denim,
his voice gravel, then rootless and defiant,
his eyes pulsed gray, bottomless black, then flat green
with flecks of spittle, his height wavered, his flat
tattooed gut pouted, then didn't. He was scarred
by every change I had made, every strike-through,
cut/paste, backspace, delete, all of the unleased
betrayal that roars through prose. I had built him
from a knowing of adjectives, then piled on
detail and declaration, and now he is
overdone, dragging all that weight and wheezing
when he breathes. The boy patiently loads pockets
with stones, bottle caps and jagged shards of glass,
waiting for the moment when the skin of my
neck is exposed. Only 11, he scans
me with man eyes and says it, claiming my nights,
advancing the plot in a way that we both
know can't be undone. He says: Give me a name.


Patricia Smith's collection of poems about Hurricane Katrina, Blood Dazzler, was published by Coffee House Press in 2008. She has also published four collections of poetry, Teahouse of the Almighty, Close to Death, Big Towns, Big Talk, and Life According to Motown. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the first Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and is a member of the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. This poem originally appearer in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Bulletin.

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