Yesterday I shared a poem from one of this year’s National Book Finalists, Be Recorder, a collection written by Carmen Giménez Smith and published by Graywolf Press. For those who might be interested in pursuing Smith’s work, here is another taste of her talents, the opening poem to the collection:
Carmen Giménez Smith
People sometimes confuse me for someone else they know
because they’ve projected an idea onto me. I’ve developed
a second sense for this—some call it paranoia, but I call it
the profoundest consciousness on the face of the earth.
This gift was passed on to me from my mother who learned it from
solid and socially constructed doors whooshing inches from her face.
It may seem like a lie to anyone who has not felt the whoosh, but
a door swinging inches from your face is no joke. It feels like being
invisible, which is also what it feels like when someone looks
at your face and thinks you’re someone else. In graduate school
a teacher called me by another woman’s name with not even
brown skin, but what you might call a brown name. That sting
took years to overcome, but I got over it and here
I am with a name that’s at the front of this object, a name
I’ve made singular, that I spent my whole life making.
It’s a good opener in that it plants the flag of identity, pronouncing one of the themes of the book. It also digs into the concept of names and their importance to their owners because names are more than just letters. Names become everything about you, from Biblical times (think of Esau, who sold his birthright in Genesis) to modern times.
Everyone seeks to “protect their good name,” because names are their calling card, their reputation, their individuality struggling not to be typecast in any way. It seems simple, but is complex. Here, Smith tries to capture it in a brief anecdote about her mother’s encounter with “solid and socially constructed doors whooshing inches from her face.”
Those aren’t just any doors, obviously. They are metaphors. And what’s on the other side of them, when opened, depends on the beholder.