Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A 1987 poem by United States poet Sharon Olds. Near the end of it, the narrator says, "There is/ no way to know how easy this/ white skin makes my life," though she demonstrates this easily enough throughout.

Where is the poem that begins with a consideration of this assertion, as opposed to stating it? Where is the poem that resists the construction of this "boy" and his imprisonment within the rhetoric of this form?


The boy and I face each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a
set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
opposite sides of the car, a couple of
molecules stuck in a rod of light
rapidly moving through darkness. He has the
casual cold look of a mugger,
alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
red, like the inside of the body
exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the
whole skin of an animal taken and
used. I look at his raw face,
he looks at my fur coat, and I don’t
know if I am in his power —
he could take my coat so easily, my
briefcase, my life —
or if he is in my power, the way I am
living off his life, eating the steak
he does not eat, as if I am taking
the food from his mouth. And he is black
and I am white, and without meaning or
trying to I must profit from his darkness,
the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
nation’s head, as black cotton
absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
no way to know how easy this
white skin makes my life, this
life he could take so easily and
break across his knee like a stick the way his
own back is being broken, the
rod of his soul that at birth was dark and
fluid, rich as the head of a seedling
ready to thrust up into any available light.

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