I watch him bob across the intersection,
Squat legs bowed in black sweatpants.
I watch him smile at nobody, at our traffic
Stopped to accommodate his slow going.
His arms churn the air. His cosmic job
Carries him nowhere. But it is as if he hears
A voice in our idling engines, calling him
Lithe, Swift, Prince of Creation. Every last leaf
Shivers in the sun, while we sit, bothered,
Late, captive to this thing commanding
Wait for this man. Wait for him.
—Tracy K. Smith
“This poem came from thinking about being alive, being human, and being small. The struggle is to imagine the largeness that we ideally have access to—the compassion, the sense of love—that would make us even more fully human. Then the reality is that there are so many opportunities that we just aren’t ready to take. So we can look at those and slow them down and think about them.”
Tracy K. Smith is Poet Laureate of the United States. This poem was presented at the literary series “The Green Room,” hosted by The Merwin Conservancy on Maui.
Tracy K. Smith, “Beatific” from Wade in the Water. Copyright 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. www.graywolfpress.org