Poems / March 29, 2024

To Little Black Girls, Risking Flower
A Double Golden Shovel

Patricia Smith

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.
—Anais Nin

Blossom when you’re ready, but rough. Be quaint explosive. And
to those who spoke you dim, dismissed your failed green, then
took your witless imagination for manic romps in the drizzle—the
it named Weather was wee drama, cartoonish in the clutch of day.

Risk the lush you have never seen. Forget how winter first came—
the unrhymed shudder, the gray dressed like your father; when,
thanks to the loud religion of wind, you couldn’t find your face, and the
painful trick of season moved through you like a knife of ice. Risk

more. Risk smolder. Risk blood flower. Risk voice. (Like you, it too
was often just storm not knowing why.) Risk is why you remain,
bud like an opening hand, sprouting your mere devastation of tight
aroma, why you’ll strut thorn, sink flytrap canines into bland satin,

into a landscape of concrete, unloosing the notion of grass. What a
tight-clenched jubilation you are, what a plump thirsting bud,
remaining unswerved in your reach for any sky. If your aim was
to unfurl, terrify, sparkle with damage, you’ll do that and more.

Risk lurks in every inch of soil as frost or scorch, and it’s painful
the way soil can stunt the upward it insists upon. You’re more than
when you were just a whimpering mistake beneath the dirt, the
Camellia clawing for first breath. Risk that breathlessness. Risk

day, risk slap of sun, risk yawning wide, risk the itch and choke of it,
the damned wheel of days, growth and all the dirty water it took.
Then be that quaint explosive. Growl out with howling, red vibrato,
and own everything weather has done to you. Bellow, girl. Blossom.


(This poem originally appeared in You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World.)

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Patricia Smith is the author of Unshuttered; Incendiary Art, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the NAACP Image Award, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist; Africans in America, a companion volume to the award-winning PBS series; and the children’s book Janna and the Kings. Her work has also appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best American Essays, and The Best American Mystery Stories. Smith is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation. She is a professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, a former distinguished professor for the City University of New York, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in Mercer County, New Jersey.

More from The Nation

Prisoners at a prison in Tel Mond, Israel, 2004.

Bringing a Seminal Palestinian Resistance Novel to the World Bringing a Seminal Palestinian Resistance Novel to the World

Talking with the translators of Wissam Rafeedie's The Trinity of Fundamentals, a book whose genesis is as extraordinary as its contents.

Q&A / Rayan El Amine

Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together

Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together

Her art integrated painting, quilting, and the assemblage of Indigenous practices from around the globe to forge solidarity.

Books & the Arts / Jasmine Liu

Kid Cudi in Las Vegas, 2024.

The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi

In Insano, the rapper and hip-hop artist comes back down to earth.

Books & the Arts / Bijan Stephen

From “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction,” Aaron Douglas (1934).

The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance

A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the world-spanning art of the Harlem Renaissance.

Books & the Arts / Rachel Hunter Himes

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

An interview with Gillian Slovo, whose new play about the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London just opened in New York.

Feature / D.D. Guttenplan

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart.

Blood, Guts, and Queer Bodybuilders Blood, Guts, and Queer Bodybuilders

The Kristen Stewart–helmed erotic thriller Love Lies Bleeding filters a study of sex, violence, and the limits of human will through a romance that begins in a New Mexico gym.

Books & the Arts / Beatrice Loayza