cover image Wade in the Water

Wade in the Water

Tracy K. Smith. Graywolf, $24 (96p) ISBN 978-1-55597-813-6

History is in a hurry,” writes Smith in her first collection since the Pulitzer-winning Life on Mars, and these lyrical meditations on class, environmental threat, and America’s bloody heritage prove that the current U.S. poet laureate is plenty capable of keeping up with that “ship forever setting sail.” Readers familiar with Smith’s work will feel at home in “this dark where the earth floats.” Some poems inhabit a more boldly theological space than does previous work, yet Smith’s sense of the numinous stays appealingly grounded, as when she describes the “everlasting self” as “Gathered, shed, spread, then/ Forgotten, reabsorbed. Like love/ From a lifetime ago, and mud/ A dog has tracked across the floor.” Whether presenting a sardonic erasure of the Declaration of Independence or dramatizing the correspondence between black Civil War soldiers and their wives, Smith nimbly balances lyricism and direct speech. In “Annunciation,” she boldly states, “I’ve turned old. I ache most/ To be confronted by the real,/ the pitiless, the bleak.” But a wry playfulness leavens her weightier concerns, and she leaves a small window open on her private self: “Flying home, I snuck a wedge of brie, and wept/ Through a movie starring Angelina Jolie.” Smith remains a master whose technical skill enhances her emotional facilities, one ever able to leave readers “feeling pierced suddenly/ By pillars of heavy light.” (Apr.)