The Fire This Time “Queries of Unrest” by Clint Smith Summary
by Jesmyn Ward

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Fire This Time Study Guide

Subscribe Now

“Queries of Unrest” by Clint Smith Summary

In the first stanza, the-first person speaker speculates on his origins, wondering if he comes from the “gap between his father’s teeth.” He then wonders if perhaps this gap was “meant” to remind him of “a little bit of darkness” every time his father smiled.

The speculative tone continues in the second stanza, as does the imagery of darkness contrasted with happiness, as the narrator contemplates whether he was “meant to understand” that the appearance of joy is “magnified” by darkness. Or, suggesting an entirely different origin, the narrator wonders if he comes from “where the sidewalk ends,” a phrase he might have simply read in a book. In a one-line transition, he admits that it can be difficult to know the difference between reality and imagination.

In the third stanza, the narrator refers to the previous line and tries to further explain this difficulty. He wonders if it’s because during his childhood, a white boy told the narrator that he was “marginalized,” and all the narrator could think about was the empty margin at the edge of a sheet of paper—the “abyss” he was told never to write in.

The poem continues with this image of writing on paper in the fourth stanza, as the narrator begins questioning his own motives. He lets on that he is apprehensive about writing another poem lest readers dismiss it as just “another black poem. “ He is also worried that the poem he writes will be mischaracterized as a cry for help; then, in another one-line transition, he considers the possibility that the unwritten poem in question might be a cry for help after all.

In the fifth stanza, which is comprised of seven lines, the narrator returns to the idea of his origins as he wonders if he comes from someplace where “people are always afraid of dying,” then questions his own sincerity, admitting that he might just tell himself this so he doesn’t “feel so alone in this body.” The narrator supposes the existence of a place where “everyone” is both terrified and at peace, simultaneously “in love with and running from their own skin,” and wonders whether that place is “here.”

In the final, four-line stanza, the narrator again considers his motives and the reason he always runs away from the “things” that love him. It’s possible that he’s always running because he wants to spare others “the time of burying darkness / when all they have to do is close their eyes.”


As the opening work in the "Reckoning" section, Clint Smith’s self-searching poem introduces part 2’s unifying theme of the “present” condition of Black experience, existence, and consciousness. In an epigraph, Smith writes that his poem is “After Hanif Willis Aburraqib,” a young Black poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. Abdurraqib gained acclaim with his first...

(The entire section is 708 words.)