Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Queen Elizabeth

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Queen Elizabeth

Article excerpt

John, you asked me what it was like to be black,

to come from a place where being black mattered.

I thought of telling you that being black matters

everywhere. Your great-grandfather owned this land,

the dust and the Gila Monsters, cattle prods and mountain ranges.

I wondered if your family owned slaves.

In Ethiopia, they practice scarification because the skin is too dark

for tattoos. Women are whipped and it is consensual.

The body bleeds and swells; this is bravery. For a boy to become a man

he must jump over a herd of cattle. He is marriageable

only after his sisters are lashed, because this is the bond of skin

this is letting go.

Where I come from, Jesus is dark-skinned and forgiving.

My mother has seen him. My sister does not care.

Your father was a minister, and I am curious to know,

if the Son of the desert is also the Son of the city,

and if so, why is there still so much hatred between them?

At the bar, after a poetry reading, some kid said,

/ don't want to be a black writer.

I thought of slugging him with the nearest bottle;

his skin was darker than my own.

An hour before, a friend of his read a poem

in dialect to a packed crowd. She was a homeless man

begging for God's forgiveness.

(Lawd, I ain't got nowhere else to go)

This girl needed my approval, asked if I was offended. …

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