“Next, Next” by Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith


he is the only white boy in lawndale
and who could blame him, searching
for a line of commerce that could save
his life? he starts hanging in the shadows
of our apartment building, pulling down
his pants and charging us a dime to look,
a quarter to touch. stubbed fingers, dingy,
pinkish, thumbing it. the slowly writhing
nub hooded and winking sly neon, here,
here, here, go on, touch it, go on be startled
by its whispered little rhumba, its soft
arrogance. the long line of wait, colored
and curious, snakes washington street
with giggles electric, our one stomach
throbbing with this stupid magic. white boy
shifts from Ked to Ked, corporate bigwig
under the overhang, and if not for his
clipped command, next, next, we would
not even notice him attached to the thing.

three dimes sticky in my fist. i’m two
unraveled braids, grape bubble gum smash,
newly baptized into the wrong world.
i do not know the name of my immediate
future, wouldn’t recognize the hot snap
of the word cock, i don’t have a clue
to that thing’s unerring purpose. but ouch,
a vessel deep in me is already calling.
i move forward, impatient, my touch
outstretched for a stranger, blood money
straight from my hurt to his. still, i’m blue
with shame because i’m sure i’m the only one:
he has to take my hand and guide it there.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011


Patricia Smith: “I grew up on the west side of Chicago, in a tenement apartment building with an overhang on its north face. During the winter, the overhang would offer respite from the relentless Chicago winter, with its slushy sidewalks, mountains of snow and biting wind. In the summer, it provided shade from the searing sun. We’d gather in its shade to jump doubledutch or sit cross-legged in the dirt to play jacks. The west side was the part of town everyone said to stay away from—so, of course that meant that the people who lived there were poor, and black. In my neighborhood of Lawndale, though, there was one exception. One white family lived there. One mother, a father, a small girl, and one boy about my age. To keep from being stalked, teased or jumped—just because he was so foreign—the kid developed an ambitious and industrious schtick. Today, I imagine him retired to his villa in Tuscany, still counting our quarters.” (website)

Rattle Logo