Tracy K. Smith

I discovered someone today I hadn’t known about. Tracy K. Smith was born in Massachusetts and raised in northern California. She earned a BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Princeton University. Her book of poetry, Life on Mars (2011), was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Her daily radio program and podcast is The Slowdown. Her father having been an engineer who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, space and astronomy weave their way through her poems. Here’s the last fifth of a large poem of hers:

My God, It’s Full of Stars


When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, a bright white.

He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled
To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is—

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.

From Life on Mars. Copyright © 2011 by Tracy K. Smith. 

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