Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Toi Derricotte

The Weakness
by Toi Derricotte

That time my grandmother dragged me

through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up

by my arm, hissing, "Stand up,"

through clenched teeth, her eyes

bright as a dog's

cornered in the light.

She said it over and over,

as if she were Jesus,

and I were dead. She had been

solid as a tree,

a fur around her neck, a

light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked

on swirling

marble and passed through

brass openings--in 1945.

There was not even a black

elevator operator at Saks.

The saleswoman had brought velvet

leggings to lace me in, and cooed,

as if in service of all grandmothers.

My grandmother had smiled, but not

hungrily, not like my mother

who hated them, but wanted to please,

and they had smiled back, as if

they were wearing wooden collars.

When my legs gave out, my grandmother

dragged me up and held me like God

holds saints by the

roots of the hair. I begged her

to believe I couldn't help it. Stumbling,

her face white

with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing

away from those eyes

that saw through

her clothes, under

her skin, all the way down

to the transparent

genes confessing.



From Captivity by Toi Derricotte, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1989 Toi Derricotte. From the online Academy of American Poets.