Had he kept the name Smith
He would have kept happier.
It was not his father who shot out
his red heart at dawn: just the facts,
ma'am, not the reds, not the blues, not the bones,
not the gaudy apparitions, just the facts
and a stinking shotgun stiff with blood.

Had he kept the name Smith
He would have kept one father.
Two fathers proved too few, for a lifetime
too many, and the deedledum hummed
past the graveyard insufficient distraction.
He took the blood he spat from his lips
and spotted his own white hands
and acted surprised to find it there,

Had he kept the name Smith
He would had followed his mother
only so far and no farther. The
incarnadine waves of tears stayed
and the grave closed with black moleground
and insect grass and flowers. No need
to visit in stumble and stall. No need
to trace giggles and menses
and talcum powder.

Had he kept the name Smith
He could have kept the sniggers
and the hotel ledgers, and the coy
anonymity that had been held up
as one thing fecund in waste land.
Why did he love to fetch his reeking fingers
toward his tongue? The keening of the talked-upon,
the talents buried.

No, his father's name was ripped from him,
one more bloody package,
only to be returned in sleep and dreams
and dreams awakened.
When time comes loose,
flecked river flooding among our feet,
he reclaims his name, the only way he has been taught
and finally.

REID MITCHELL is a New Orleanian teaching at Huaqiao Uninversity in Quanzhou, China. He is the author of the
REVIEW SINGAPORE, PEDESTAL, and elsewhere. He frequently writes with the Hong Kong poet Tammy
Ho Lai-Ming.

"To Work With A Sharp Tool" is a very American poem, with a very American brand of jitters, but I wrote it in Wuxi, China, one morning last winter. That month I had been studying mid-20th century American poets, and one of them inspired this. Some of your readers will recognize immediately of whom I am writing. The real issue for me is that while I am not a believer in fate or in yuanfen, the life and work of this poet does suggest an inability to escape one's destiny.



Copyright 2009