Tracy K. Smith

The Nobodies

                             Los nadies: los hijos de nadie, los dueños de nada.
                             Los nadies: los ningunos
                                                                      —Eduardo Galeano




They rise from the dawn and dress.


They raise the bundles to their heads
And their shadows broaden—

Dark ghosts grounded to nothing.


They grin and grip their skirts.


They finger the gold and purple beads
Circling their necks, lift them
Absently to their teeth. They speak


A language of kicked stones.


And it’s not the future their eyes see,
but history. It stretches
Like a dry road uphill before them.


They climb it.




With small hands
They pat wet earth
Into brick.


And we wonder
What they eat
And why they believe


In their gods
With faces
Like frightening toys.


We pay what they ask,
Minus something
For our trouble,


Wondering why they don’t
Pack up from the foot
Of the volcano,


Why they ruin their hands,
Their teeth, why they swallow
What they are given


Without a smile,
Or the hint of anger.




A goat watches with eyes the inverse of danger,
Knowing there will always be some wafer of meaning
To savor on the tongue. Its munching
Is belief in the body and in the long dry grass.
What it finds, it takes into its mouth as proof
that necessity is the same as plenty.


The child who tends the goat
Sits on his knees in the shade of a low tree.
He considers what he knows. He lies down
On his side, takes the teat into his mouth
And drinks. What he does not know
Flickers in the breeze, brushes past his cheek,


The tip of his ear, and is quickly behind him.




If it is true that the earth respires,
That it speaks only to those
Who command nothing—


If it is true that the first man
Was fashioned of corn.
Of divine shit. Of dust—


If a bale of cotton—


If color is trance,
And trance is to ride the back
Of the first great bird
In first flight—


If the world has ended twelve times—
If the atom is cognizant, coy;
If light is both pow-wow
And tango—


If, at the final trumpet,
Oil magnates will kiss the ankles
Of earth-caked girls who traipse
Along the highway’s edge,
Hugging the mountain
When trucks barrel past—


If Satchmo. If Leadbelly—


If wind on the horizon,
Thundering the trees,
Making all of our houses small—