Black Hair

Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi translated from the Chinese by Yi Lei

copyright ©2020

Black hair like youth
Runs wild in March.
Dark papery leaves fly
Teeming, swarming,
Bum-rushing March.

Black hair in March
Is gentle, strangers’ eyes
Softer. Memory:
A feast on offer. Youth,
Born of the primordial sea—
Embrace me. Drape my skin
Old as clouds
In something suppler.

Black hair
Blown free, rootless,
Wanders the desert’s
Countless tombs, sways
Across a vacant sky,
Whips at fresh mud in rain.
Days blaze past. I have
Lost sight of my own black hair
In the mirror. Let me
Watch it now
For the next thousand years.

Black hair weedy
In dirt-poor soil.
Thirsty, deluded,
Squandering its spoils.
Black hair has no idea.

The story of black hair
Is my story.
When I die, let me drift
Like a dandelion
Of black hair.

Black hair
Like holy water
No way, there is no way
To be saved except to die.
When black hair cries,
Itsw tears snuff themselves out
Like candles.
So will my life cease to flicker.

Black hair
Exhausted brush fire
Fanned by misery
Whistling
Through the last century.

Black hair, ?Shredded black flag
Of a women’s glory
Ragged and battered
In March wind.
Forsaking dignity
Absolved of chastity
With its pride in knots
Black hair smiles easily
In March.

If waterfall, it will plummet.
If cloud, it will scatter.
Eyes plaintive, wide,
Black hair waits to be spun
By hardened hands
Into rock.

March 25, 1987

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week continues to celebrate the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poets. This week’s poem, “Black Hair,” is from the shortlisted collection, My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi translated from the Chinese written by Yi Lei—a collection that “gathers poems of eros and grief, each page bursting with attentiveness to our world.” (Judges' citation) Listen to Tracy K. Smith read the Poem of the Week in a beautifully illustrated excerpt from the Griffin Poetry Prize Winners Announcement Film

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