Monday, April 16, 2012

Poetry Month

Allison Joseph

In eighth grade, we teased that girl
As much as we could, mocking

her clothes, her stringy hair,
her flat, pallid face that revealed

little protest. Used to be being
the one white girl in our class

of blacks, Hispanics, she endured
our taunts on her lack of rhythm,

on her stiff, flat-butted walk.
How we pitied her—brown hair

parted straight, pulled back
in a dull ponytail, her jeans

or corduroy pants in washed-out
shades of gray or blue,

her homework neatly done
in pained, legible print.

How weak it was to be white,
we thought, not able to dance

or run fast, to have skin
that peeled from too much sun.

We never let Caroline forget
that she as white and we

were black, that we could
swing our hips and snap

our fingers without trying,
privy to street-slang rhythms.

But she was our white girl,
and if anyone else dared

to touch her or call her names,
we’d be on them in a second,

calling them ugly right back,
slapping offenders if necessary.

With one of us by her side,
she could walk the school

safely, knowing she was ours
even if we didn’t let her in

all the way, even if we laughed
at her white speech, thin lips.

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