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Kwame Dawes


If you walk far enough into the hills,
far enough from the factory of smoke,
far enough from the garbage dump;
if you take a woman along those
tree-full streets, just where the village  
center can’t be seen; and you stand
under tree shade and look down
to the rivers and the bridges, where
everything looks clean and the city
is growing like somebody’s feeding
it hope; and the boats float across
the surface of the river peaceful;
if you take your woman so far
from it all; you will first smell
yourself; smell the sweet rot
of garbage so thick around you
most days you don’t even know
what it smells like, you will smell
the trash in your skin and the cooking
sweat under your armpits, the funk
in your crotch, and you will know
that though she agreed to come
walking with you, she will smell
you and nicely tell you where to get
off; she won’t say it, but she will
show you that you are out of your
league, out classed, that you are just
a big handed garbage man, a felon,
a damned has been baseball player,
and you smell like crap.  So you say
to her, gruff with shame, “I know
I smell like crap, but it is the work I do—
I move crap, it is what I do…”
And if she looks you in the eye
and says softly, “You don’t smell
like crap, Mister, you smell like work,
like a man should, and forgive me
for being so bold, but that is the sweetest
smell this girl knows in the world,”
you will feel to cry right there,
for this pretty woman, this lady
who could never seem more precious
than she does now.  And you will say to her,
“Well, baby, all I can smell on you
is pure roses, baby, sweet roses.”



In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife
1Corinthians 3:4
What you don’t know is that when you lay
out on your back; sweet with good liquor
as you like to call it, and your face goes
slack, every strain to be the man drained
from your forehead, and I pull off your boots,
the socks with the hole in the right instep
that I have darned already and will again,
and then undo those buttons on your trousers,
untangle the belt and pull down those trousers,
heavy as a five year old I cradled in my arms,
full of coins, your knife, bundles of paper
wrapped with blackened cord, when I strip
off your shorts, then unbutton your shirt,
pulling you to one side then to the other
to take your arms out of the sleeves,
then dragging that cotton shirt, stained
under the armpits yellow, over your head,
to leave you laid out there like I know
you will be that day when Palmer will wash
you to fix you up; with his chemicals
and paste and make up—Palmer, who
will not know every fold under your chin,
or the way that long vein crawls over
your thick arms down to your wrist;
Palmer and his people, who don’t know
the shape of your chest, hard at the top
and soft around these nipples you pretend
you don’t like me to suckle on like a baby
even though I can feel the nudge of your dick
every time I do; folks who won’t know
every dark spot on your skin; the islands
of scars over your wide belly stretched tight
over the ropes of muscles barely visible
beneath the flesh; folks who don’t know
to find the cluster of dense hair on your
left shoulder, who won’t know what it is
to lay hands on you like a prayer; say, “Man,
God say, all of this, all of this is mine,
Every inch of skin, every hair is mine.”
They won’t know what I know when I place
my hand under your scrotum and feel
the animal of you grow hard, grow to the shape
I know, each swell, each vein, each
wrinkle and blemish; and me saying
“Even this, man, is mine.”  Even  
when I can smell the funk of another woman
in your skin, even when I know you don’t
know that it is all mine, even then,
I still stand over you, place my hand over
your chest and put my face against your face,
feel the breath of you on me; and in this
silence, I say to you, “Man, this is mine,
and today, I won’t take it away from you.  
Today, I won’t cover your slack face
with this pillow, because of love, man,
because of love, and because God says.”



Before light I drag the canoe down
the slick uneven slope—the air is heavy
with heat; already the hum of flies
dancing around the bald cypresses.
The creek is black, slippery, whispering
where the fallen trees clogged the stream.
In this soft morning, the world
belongs to the open sky.  Even the old
folks, still drunk from Friday night’s
libations, have not stirred.  This
is where a girl will find herself,
find the secret in her heart, find
even those memories she has buried,
the anger, the desire, the tepid
mix of lust and fear.  The canoe
slips out; I dip quietly, pulling
the puddle out smoothly, no splash,
just the slippage of a boat along
the creek.  I lie on my back
stare at the opening sky;
and register this full silence,
the shelter of being alone like
a child hording her salvation
to come where the river bends.