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  • Ethel's Sestina
  • Patricia Smith (bio)

Gon' be obedient in this here chair, gon' bide my time under this sudden sun. I ask my boy, and all he says is Wait. He wipes my brow with steam, tells me to sleep. I trust his every word. Herbert my son. I believe him when he says help gon' come.

Been so long since all these suffrin' folks come to this place. Now on the ground 'round my chair, they sweat in my shade, keep asking my son could that be a bus they see. Only sun answers them, its noon slap too rude for sleep, making us hear wheels, engine. Not yet. Wait.

Lawd, some folks prayin' for rain while they wait, forgetting what rain can do. When it come, it smashes living flat, wakes you from sleep, eats streets, washes you clean out of the chair you was sittin' in. Best to love this sun, shinin' its dry shine. Lawd have mercy, son, is it coming? Such a strong man, my son, we all wrapped in his big voice saying Wait. Wait some more. Bones get slow beneath this sun. We wait. Ain't no white men or buses come, but look—see that there? Get me out this chair, help me stand on up. No time for sleepin', [End Page 1344]

cause look what's rumbling this way, go to sleep you gon' miss it. Look there I tells my son. He don't hear. I try rising out this chair, but the ghost in my legs tells me to wait, wait for the salvation that's sho to come. I feel my body lifted by the sun.

Nobody sees me swallowed by that sun. They think I've finally fallen into sleep. They don't hear Come. Come. Come. Come. Come. Come. Come. No one can hear me wailing for my son. I can't wait, Herbert. Lawd, I can't. Can't wait. Don't cry, boy, ain't yo mama in that chair.

Wish you coulda come on this journey, son, seen sun slide wide cross my soul before sleep. No one said Wait. And chile, my golden chair.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith—poet, playwright, journalist and performer—is author of four books of poems, Life According to Motown, Close to Death, Teahouse of the Almighty, and Big Towns, Big Talk. Her work has also been published in such periodicals as The Nation, The Paris Review, Agni, and TriQuarterly. This Chicago native has worked as a journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Globe.



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