The Wordless Angel – for Patricia Clark Smith

For my teacher and friend, Patricia Clark Smith, who left us on 11 July 2010. Until I make some sense of what I’d like to say about her, I’ve robbed this post from Bobby Byrd’s site. He gets it right when he notes that you’d have a hard time finding Pat’s work on the web, which is why I’m so glad he posted “The Great Pat Smith American Dream Poem.”

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.


Posted on 27 July 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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