Playground Elegy

The first time I slid down a slide my mother
told me to hold my hands towards the sky.

Something about gravity, weight distribution,
& feeling the air ripple through your fingers.

I remember reaching the bottom, smile consuming
half of my face, hands still in the air because

I didn’t want it to stop. Ever since, this defiance
of gravity has always been synonymous with feeling alive.

When I read of the new child, his body strewn across
the street, a casket of bones & concrete, I wonder how

many times he slid down the slide. How many times
he defied gravity to answer a question in class. Did he

raise his hands for all of them? Does my mother regret
this? That she raised a black boy growing up to think

that raised hands made me feel more alive. That raised hands
meant I was alive. That raised hands meant I would live.

This poem originally appeared in Still: The Journal.

By Clint Smith

Clint Smith is a teacher, poet, and doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, an Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, and was a speaker at the 2015 TED Conference. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Kinfolks, Still: The Journal, Off the Coast, American Literary Review, Harvard Educational Review, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in New Orleans and thinks cinnamon rolls are best served at room temperature.