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Toi Derricotte

Before Making Love

I move my hands over your face,
the cheek bones, broadly spaced,
the wide thick nostrils of the African,
the forehead whose bones push
forward at both sides as if the horns
of new fallen angels lie just under,
the chin that juts forward with pride.
I think of the delicate skull of the Taung child—
earliest of human beings
emerged from darkness—whose geometry
brings word of a small town of dignity
that all the bloody kingdoms rest on.

[The Taung child is a fossil, a juvenile Australopithecus africanus, from Taung, South Africa, two million years old.]

Grace Paley Reading

Finally, the audience gets
restless, & they send me
to hunt for Grace. I find her
backing out of the bathroom, bending
over, wiping up her footprints
as she goes with a little
sheet of toilet paper, explaining,
“In some places, after the lady mops,
the bosses come to check on her.
I just don't want them to think
she didn't do her job.”

My light without my father's darkness:

When i know i
am inside it, a
form comes from
nowhere, from god, yet i couldn't have done it without
fifty years
of revisions, finding the right suit for the
dead girl
to wear. It's hard to try on
words when the trick is to be
invisible; you keep giving &
taking from
yourself, then you
show yourself as a
lie, & it's not so bad!—then as a
giver of
small talk—all the while you try to slip in from the
outside, maybe in dead
night shade
knowledge, under
mining by naming, by building up
from some old
map, a little bit of
this or that. You're
weak, you
confess &, somehow, confessing
makes you stronger; you don't know why but you're lead
into the thick, you hold
someone's hand, sometimes
you switch, but you keep coming back to your
body's weight, which
comes into your mouth as

On Stopping Late in the Afternoon
for Steamed Dumplings

The restaurant is empty
except for the cooks and waiters.
One makes a pillow of linens
and sleeps, putting his feet up in a booth;
another folds paper tablecloths. Why
have I stopped to eat alone on this rainy
day? Why savor the wet meat of the
steamed dumpling? As I pick it up,
the waiter appraises me. Am I
one of those women who must stop
for treats along the way—am I that starved?
The white dough burns—much too hot—yet,
I stick it in my mouth, quickly,
as if to destroy the evidence.
The waiter still watches. Suddenly
I am sorry to be here, sad,
my little pleasure stolen.