This week in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor TC Tolbert features two poems by Carmen Giménez Smith. About Smith’s work, Tolbert writes: “Like so many, when I think of writing, I think of disobedience. On any given level, the act of ‘refusing service’ or ‘not performing one’s duty’ can be heavy with consequences (emotional, financial, psychological, physical) and so I often search for poetic guides who explore the very real politics of identity, relationship, and cultural narrative production with both the gravity they deserve and an additional disobedience to the formal choices (tone, syntax) one might assume such gravity implies. Carmen Giménez Smith is that guide for me. In her ‘Poetics of Disobedience’ Alice Notley says there is ‘probably nothing more disobedient than being a comic poet, since no one’s ever sure if that’s good enough.’ And I can’t think of any poet better than Giménez Smith to take up this challenge. She is riotous, which is to say fierce – full of myth and truth telling and delight.”



The giant held me in its thrall for so long 
I began to dream of occupying its Trojan 
Horsiness, despite being agitated with rebellion. 
Ultimately my decisions got me excised, 
but I persevered through several crucibles such 
as when my tail gathered goatheads I used to 
modify my body into a sieve, a you-name it: 
I had discovered at a young age how mutable 
the female body was; everything almost snapped back. 

from Post-Identity


Yes Virginia, it’s a monolith no one else sees
though it overshadows the animals in their boxes
stacked so corners of one stick into corners of others
for morale they think about a next life or uprising
so I suggest you let them tell you they created reality
which is like a Molotov cocktail smeared with apple pie
than share the proverbial bounty but in the interior
worry over the future Virginia, and let that take
precedence since there’s also the math dearth
that’s a secret to be the one/twelfth spot taken
by a much more legitimate therefore ephemeral and
necessary revolution that we await which is why
our shoes pinch made elsewhere in plastic versions
of animal skin layers of animal cells and the microscopic
frays of thread meant to stitch shoes instead stitching
the lungs the fingers to stitches the stitches to thousandths
of cents the kind of money to transform us all each day
into new animals new pelts I’ve forgotten why and its value
and how I inherited or acquired the knowledge of my most 
ancient onus can you see onus and me twisting into
each other like vines how do I break free of odium Virginia
or explain it as my current millstone and what
of the slumbering beast on the other side of the door
and his agenda for me like fill this hole and shut up
and why the performance of competence that feels
like gauntlet because the scheme wasn’t visible
the one from which my hand was molded
by my betters stop thinking in the past they say it’s
like shitting on the giant progressive tapestry of us
says the censorious voiceover and that really brings
us all down emphasis theirs you should know
about these matters that’s what they say Virginia
they have a straight face when they say it


What is   your provenance        where did you suffer     what is your affiliation
how are you acquainted with industry   what will you bring to our guild
what are the qualities of a good serf       what is your mission in life
and could you sell me this instance       what is the last pornography that engaged you
can you talk about         your research into the unsolvable          how would you
feign a diverse audience            is a reader a client         did customers occur to you
as an outcome what are three positive strains in you     does discontent
drive you into the market         does blunder drive you to work on a regular basis
when can you start with selective memory        is this the racket you had planned
was this a natal force     are you an open boomtown      or a crafted urn
what animal rules the roost       does that animal work as aphorism
pure revelation              or dispatch from the front lines where  is the monolith  fortress
or haven have you made anything good with your outrage          built an endless war into it
or is it merely an illusion                      an all purpose-effort against absolutes
will an underclass’s hunger       qualify for your attention
or will you have to track down their legitimacy for yourself
can I guarantee you have a chronicle of the moment or is it fraught
with the 70s     therefore fraught with the  vulgar density of       self
is that the hitch             aesthetically      thus ethically does it seem insurmountable
the desire for such validation     or could you break free and record        be recorder


I’d once have left
brown behind  
having already
left the tribe behind
and her tongue
and the garb
that made me theirs
because it felt like
leaving hoi polloi
behind to put
behind the father 
in my mother’s tongue
lingering in the
long and deep vowels      
meant I could leave
inferiority complex
not really or ever
but in theory    

I leave behind            
the house we kept
trying to make look
like the nation
and the past I know
I’ll leave my hurts
behind I hope I’ll leave
yours probably not       

Progress is such
duty when it’s
for the other team
sisters and brothers
but progress is
the sledgehammer
one at a time
that’s how long
it might take

I try to leave
my eden-dreams
behind but they stick
to my shoe

I leave behind dignity
five minutes in
because of my anarchic
spirit so the worm
is behind me too
along with the poison

I had long imagined
anger as my primary
breathing apparatus
what a mixed blessing
when it works

Once I broke into pieces          
now I break into wholes               
since I’ve learned
the most from
the cracked
even the larks
we go on like
the egress via the dour
pilgrim’s burlap
sack swinging
into the heavens
then launching
into the river
there was such
a taste of afterlife
from the seizure
of fireworks on that
independence day



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).