Cathedral Kitsch

for Black History Month, I’ll be featuring the work of some of my favorite African American poets. We begin with the sublime

Tracy K. Smith

Does God love gold?

Does He shine back

At Himself from walls

Like these, leafed

In the earth’s softest wealth?

Women light candles,

Pray into their fistful of beads.

Cameras spit human light

Into the vast holy dark,

And what glistens back

Is high up and cold. I feel

Man here. The same wish

That named the planets.

Man with his shoes and tools,

His insistence to prove we exist

Just like God, in the large

And the small, the great

And the frayed. In the chords

That rise from the tall brass pipes,

And the chorus of crushed cans

Someone drags over cobbles

In the secular street.

from Life on Mars, Minneapolis: Grey Wolf Press, 2011

Tracy K. Smith

is an American author, poet, and educator. She grew up in Northern California, where she began writing poetry at an early age, encouraged by her mother, a teacher, and her father, an aerospace engineer who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. After completing an MFA at Columbia University, Tracy was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. She teaches at Princeton, where she chairs the Lewis Center for the Arts. She has written four volumes of poetry, including Life on Mars, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. Her book Ordinary Light: A Memoir, about race, faith, and the dawning of her poetic vocation, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015. Elizabeth Alexander has written of Tracy Smith, “Her poems are mysterious but utterly lucid and write a history that is sub-rosa yet fully within her vision. They are deeply satisfying and necessarily inconclusive. And they are pristinely beautiful without ever being precious.” Tracy Smith is currently writing two operas.

Photo by Tomas Anunziata on

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