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By Tracy K. Smith

5pm on the nose. They open their mouths

And it rolls out: high, shrill and metallic.

First the boy, then his sister. Occasionally,

They both let loose at once, and I think

Of putting on my shoes to go up and see

Whether it is merely an experiment

Their parents have been conducting

Upon the good crystal, which must surely

Lie shattered to dust on the floor.


Maybe the mother is still proud

Of the four pink lungs she nursed

To such might. Perhaps, if they hit

The magic decibel, the whole building

Will lift-off, and we’ll ride to glory

Like Elijah. If this is it—if this is what

Their cries are cocked toward—let the sky

Pass from blue, to red, to molten gold,

To black. Let the heaven we inherit approach.


 Whether it is our dead in Old Testament robes,

Or a door opening onto the roiling infinity of space.

Whether it will bend down to greet us like a father,

Or swallow us like a furnace. I’m ready

To meet what refuses to let us keep anything

For long. What teases us with blessings,

Bends us with grief. Wizard, thief, the great

Wind rushing to knock our mirrors to the floor,

To sweep our short lives clean. How mean


Our racket seems beside it. My stereo on shuffle.

The neighbor chopping onions through a wall.

All of it just a hiccough against what may never

Come for us. And the kids upstairs still at it,

Screaming like the Dawn of Man, as if something

They have no name for has begun to insist

Upon being born.


Tracy K. Smith, "The Universe as Primal Scream" from Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. www.graywolfpress.org

Source: Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)

  • Relationships
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith was born in Massachusetts and raised in northern California. She earned a BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. Her book, Life on Mars (2011), won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship. She has also written a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. In June 2017, Smith was named U.S. poet laureate. She teaches creative writing at Princeton University. See More By This Poet

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