Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Sunday afternoons at Claire Carlyle's

My mother and father, light-
skinned, but too new

to make the upper cut,

were, nevertheless, welcomed
into the marble foyer

under an icebox-sized chandelier
to mix martinis with double-edged

men and women trained to outwit
and out-white the whites. Almost all

were light and straight-featured
enough to pass—some did,

some didn't.
Claire's brother Bob

passed. If seen weekdays,
he wasn't

to be spoken to. Light and dark
did the same—an inward

move to protect those
fortunate enough to choose.

But why did my mother

(who looked as white
as Loretta Young—and as beautiful!) see

Bob one weekday walking
toward her up Woodward

and cross
to the other side? Why,

when anyone would
only have seen

two white people?
It was something in my mother

not visible: in her

mind's eye
she was black and wore the robe

of it over her fine features; but

just in case

some inner misstep
might magnify and fix

them (the inner world

being vast and treacherous!)—

as if they were slaves running
for their lives.

-Toi Derricotte

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