Suzi Q. Smith: Read the poetry created by this week's cover artist

Suzi Q. Smith: Read the poetry created by this week's cover artist
Emily Driskill

In this week's cover story, "Slam, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am," we profiled Suzi Q. Smith, one of Denver's strongest voices and the number three female slam artist in the world. Smith spends 30 percent of her year traveling to teach and promote poetry outside of Colorado, but she spends 100 percent of her time brainstorming, collecting and writing new poems. Throughout the story, Westword introduced you to one of her most recent pieces, "When I Am Quiet," but Smith's back catalog numbers in the hundreds.

Click through to read "When I Am Quiet" and six of Smith's other poems, and stay tuned for videos of her performances. It is one thing to read her poetry; it is quite another thing to see it.

When I Am Quiet

When I laugh, I mean it.

Loud and from my belly.

Throw my head back, shake my hair

and even show the generous gap

between my two front teeth.

It is when I am quiet that it is time to pay attention.

When I am quiet something big is about to happen.

When I am quiet I am concentrating.

When I am quiet I am going to climax.

When I am quiet I love you too powerful to speak.

When I am quiet I am going to take off your pants and change your life.

When I am quiet I am remembering what I have hidden at the tops of the closets

and deciding how best to pack them.

When I am quiet I am trying not to cry.

When I am quiet I am going to leave.

When I am quiet I am holding my tongue

curling my fist 'round it

tracing my fingers along the tip

wanting to throw it

wanting to hide it

wanting to swallow it.

I have words. Many, many words.

I have tongue and teeth and lips.

I keep a hurricane in my throat.

When I am quiet,

when the eerie silence fills the room

when the air is a wool coat, wet and heavy

when your body is an electrical fire

when your body is geometry dismembered

when everything about me is piercing and present

when everything I feel is too big to fit into my mouth,

when I am quiet

something big is about to happen.

When My Belly Growls

"And the dogs shall eat Jezebel, and there shall be none to bury her . . . And when Jezebel heard of it she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window."

King James Bible Kings II, 9:10, 30

I have never answered to the name Jezebel.

Wept at the pictures in our children's bible

when she was cast down. She lay crumpled,

the unfinished poem we were afraid to write

tossed to the dogs

the too-big piece of meat.

It taught me to be quiet,

it taught me to behave

it told me "never take what's not yours,

girl - and by the way, nothing

is yours, girl."

I always thought she must have been beautiful.

I always thought she must have been smart.

I wonder if she was wild, if she was part wolf like me,

I wonder if she bit the dogs back,

if she yelped when she hit the ground.

I didn't want to be like her.

Practiced and mastered

the biting of my tongue, did not know then

how steel sharpens steel, my shark mouth razor,

piercing and pointed now.

I wonder if they will throw me to the dogs.

I wonder if I am wild enough to be their alpha.

I wonder if they will be starved enough to eat me anyway.

I wonder if I will howl,

if the moon will answer

hurling a tremendous tide.

I wonder if I will explode

into a pack of hungry dogs

when my flesh hits the pavement,

wonder if we will eat

right through the gates.

I have never answered to the name Jezebel.

Have been groomed for boxes, placed upon pedestals,

called righteous, called virtue,

called conscious, called pure,

my clumsy feet dangle heavy over edges.

I have had thrones torn from beneath me

disintegrate as any bit of glamour

taken as every other thing not mine

called dirty, called scapegoat,

called guilty, called whore

I have never answered.

I have never trusted

a table already set

have always sympathized with

wild-eyed hungry dogs

because they know how to hunt

and I, wild-eyed, gnash my terrible teeth

when I see pointing fingers

clawing hands prepared to lift me

to the teeter-totter throne

where worship is a stone's throw from murder

I hear the howling outside the walls.

I Do Not Know How to Love You in English

I cannot tell by its rhythm where this heart was born,

it is only music pulsing through palms.

We know this when we hold hands,

let whispers tickle ears

whatever language they assume.

I do not know how to cry in English

no sé cómo llorar en Español,

tears are born world citizens

they do not need to speak to find each other,

to rush into rivers that cannot be dammed.

I will not ask the wind where it is from.

It would only answer

with its coming and going,

does not recognize these fences or lines,

does not even see them.

I will not ask the Monarchs for a passport,

will not pinch them from the air

and pin them for their passage,

will not shoot them

as they fly away.

I will not shush the roaring seas

beating upon the border from another nation's shore

will not pretend its origin is worth less or more,

we are each of us worth our weight in water

or en papeles.

I will not ask each grain of sand

from whence it came,

will not interrogate the sediments

and segregate them by shade,

I will not cast a net around the beaches.

I do not know how to love you in English

No sé cómo te amo en Español;

only know that all that life begins with love

that cannot be walled or conquered.

I will not ask love where it comes from,

only know that it resides in me,

in the descansos dotting the desert.

I do not know what language bullets speak

have only ever heard them whisper past my head

in words I do not wish to remember or repeat,

would rather press palm to palm and whisper poems

"Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

yearning to breathe free . . ."

Would rather smile, warm as stew-filled belly

and break bread.

I will not ask the flames I cook with for identification

when they burn more orange

than red, white, or blue

as I do not know how to eat in English

No sé cómo comer en Español;

I do not know how to breathe in English

No sé cómo respirar en Español;

I do not know how to bleed in English

No sé cómo sangrar en Español;

but I think it is the same

Creo que es lo mismo

Con mis palabras

y con mi lengua rota

yo trato hablar.

You Ruin Everything

I love you.

This is neither fair nor reasonable.

I hope I hurt you.

I hope I ruined your life.

I hope you vowed to treat the next one better than you treated me.

I hate how well you treat her.

I still love you.

It is a fierce injustice.

I hope the hole I left in your life will always whistle.

I hope I am the one that got away.

I burned every picture of you.

I deleted your name from my phone.

You ruin everything.

There are too many jokes that only you get.

They are not funny anymore.

I still e-mail them to you sometimes.

You are a diamond ring on someone else's finger.

You are the meal at the five-star restaurant that made me vomit.

You are my dream home and the termites in its bones.

You are a shipwrecked yacht.

You are a dream, a nightmare coming true.

You are a snowman on the first warm day.

You are a sunset on a moonless night.

You are the last cigarette.

You are a sweaty 2:00 a.m. pulling me away from what would have been a good fight.

You are two lovers that do not make love.

You are new sandals in a snowstorm.

You are a kiss on the cheek and the smell of another woman.

You are Central Park

and the autumn leaves

and the giant moon

and the rats in the bushes.

You are a bad poem.

You are the midnight kiss and the morning remorse.

You are the birthday phone call.

You are a wedding gown after the divorce.

You are a photograph of a dead friend that I still want to remember as living.

You are a great poem.

You are the best poem.

You are the poem that breaks my heart.

You broke my heart.

Several cardiologists confirmed this.

The echocardiogram showed there was a piece of it missing.

The blood kept flowing backward and maybe that's why it's so hard to let go.

It is a fierce injustice.

I left your book in your mailbox.

I am not sure the world is big enough.

Even the moon looks like you sometimes.

This is neither fair nor reasonable.

You cannot have me now.

I do not want you.

I do not want to want you.

You are a parking lot conversation after everything has closed and we cannot stay and we cannot go.

I do not want to write for you.

You do not love me.

I used to tell people it was complicated.

I sometimes still dream in your voice.

I hope you burned everything that reminds you of me.

I hope I ruined your favorite song.

I hope your smile will always bear my signature.

I hope you will always miss me.

The hole in my life whistles.

Jump Back, Honey, Jump Back

"Don't forget who you are,"

She said.

"Don't forget when you're out there

with your friends

that before you were born

there was a place for you here, in my house

where we sing like Angels

dance like drops of water in a hot iron skillet

and glow like distant stars."

We stay up late with the hot comb and grease

We wake up early for braids and beads

We walk to church five times a week

"There is still a place for you here, in my house,"

She says,

"where we shower love and sprinkle correction

smile into each other like mirrors

and remind ourselves of Home."

Nana will let you eat steak at midnight

Nana will cry sometimes for no reason

Nana will open her doors for you

"There will always be a place for you here, in my house,"

She says,

"when it turns cold outside and you've gone too far

when the street lights come on and you see

the game is over."

Leading me out of the lion's mouth

though my soul looks back and wonders how

I think I understand what she's been talking about

"Don't forget who you are,"

She said.

"Always remember where you come from."

The Rendering

I remember the summer we smoked dried bamboo;

found it growing or dying in the alley,

we spent afternoons hiding

in the garage with the caved-in roof

burning Barbie dolls and GI Joes,

old radios we found in garbage cans.

That summer, before we turned all gray and steely

we were sparks and giggles and gone,

matches pinched between fingers.


When I miss you I want to

etch your name into my thigh

so I can trace the scar


with the tip of my finger

(you are not the first man i have missed).

I do not whittle your face, only trace

the phantom scar, palpable as your breath

warming my skin for your lips, I am

warming my skin when I miss you

(still something about my thighs should feel familiar).

The curve of the letters bears the hooks of your fingers,

I walk the way you sign your name.

I watch,

I practice.

(I am a schoolgirl

with a crush

and a straight razor

and a box cutter

and a pen knife

and a crush

a crushing





I scratch your name a secret and smile

my most wicked smile,

canary in my mouth and lump in my throat,

I press teeth and lips into the consonants of your name

tongue the vowels slow

until my mouth reveals your trace

(a callus

a knuckle

a stiff beard

a broad hand

a thick stroke

a stiff drink

a thick drink).

I think I see you

in the thin skin

of my inner thigh

your name, blinking canary

neon needling, insistent as raised skin

(mouthful of missing you).

Press my hungry hands into my lap

and wait and whisper

and wait and whisper

and want.

More on Suzi Q. Smith: "Slam poet Suzi Q. Smith brought a national championship to Denver" and "Suzi Q. Smith: Watch our cover poet perform with Lady Wu-Tang, Denver's raw and rowdy female tribute."

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