Patricia Smith

Listening at the Door

I don’t understand what drove me
to the rhythm. My mother behind a closed
door, locked and bolted from her side,
failing to separate us, keeping only my body out.
And from beneath that door, I could almost see
the nasty mix of tobacco and English Leather,
slithering. Mama laughed with her teeth clenched,
which meant potential husband sitting stiff
and spitshined on our pockmarked couch.
The needle hit that first groove and I wondered
why my mother had chosen the blues
when it was hope she needed to convey,
why Tyrone Davis bellowed and begged baby,
won’t you change your mind, squealing ’bout what
he’d do if he could just turn back the hands of time,
then Gloria Lynne’s voice cracking hard across heartbreak,
and I pressed my ear against the door, listened to
their wet breathing and the uncertain click of glass.
I felt sorry for them needing someone else’s ache
to climb on, while I had Smokey Robinson to
fluff hair, lighten skin, make panties so much silk.
I was sleek thin Marvelette, each of my fingers
a magic wand and on the receiving end of each wand
a man, cramped and confused with wanting me.
But what drove me to listen on those nights
when my mother let that fragrant man in, banished
me to the back of the apartment, and pretended
she could shine above hurting? I rested my ear
against the hot wood all night, trembling, as he
flipped through the 45s, looking for somebody blind
this time, somebody crawling on their knees toward love.