One of the many things I love about poetry is the way it gives voice to things that may be difficult to say any other way. That’s why I read poetry, and why I write it, although my poetry is generally not for publication and more stream-of-consciousness than anything else.
This poem is a case in point, since I took a chance and submitted it to a publication on race and bias. The rejection letter I received was kind: “The format of your piece didn’t flow as well with the other pieces.”
I suppose the same thing could be said here – both the format and theme of this piece are quite different from my other writing, but I’m sharing it here anyway. “A change is as good as a rest,” my father used to say, so this is my change and rest today.
Pretty Colours at the Grocery Store
In the grocery store a few weeks ago,
I bought a bag of orange lentils,
a ripe red tomato,
a yellow lemon with a few black specks,
and a gnarled and light brown knob of ginger.
“Are you making soup?” asked the cashier,
and I said, “yes, the weather’s so wet and cold.”
“My favourite thing is to sit by my window
and look at the rain,” she said,
and I agreed, “Oh, I love that too.”
But then she asked,
“What nationality are you?
You’re so pretty–you look half white.”
I felt both stunned
and wanting to say a million things at once.
Like first of all she called me pretty,
and it made me think
how another stranger
once said that to me.
Years ago in a strange country,
a tall stranger in a green convertible,
slowly following me down a strange city street.
“Honey, you’re pretty,” he said,
“Where are you from,
you have such high cheekbones,
I’m an artist,
I want to paint your picture,
you could come to my studio.”
But of course I just kept walking
because I didn’t believe he was an artist,
and I didn’t believe I was pretty,
although yes, I had those high cheekbones.
And I wanted to say to the brown-eyed cashier,
“What do you mean I’m pretty,
because I’m half white?
You don’t have to be white to be pretty,”
I wanted to say with some heat.
“Is white the only pretty colour?
And how can you say such a thing
when your own skin is dark?
Skin like coffee with a touch of cream,
and you are pretty.
You laugh with your eyes
and you’re strong on your feet all day
and your hair gleams black
and you are beautiful.”
I had so much to say,
so of course I couldn’t,
and she just kept talking,
finished scanning my groceries,
cash or credit,
do you have your Airmiles card,
and the woman behind me
tapping fingers on the counter,
waiting her turn at the till to go on.
So I paid my bill and took home
my orange lentils
and the ripe red tomato,
the yellow lemon with a few black specks,
and the gnarly brown ginger,
and made my beautiful soup.
I stood at my window
and looked at the rain.
“I always stand at the window,”
I should have said.
My chair faces away
from the window
to the warmth of the room.
I felt my high cheekbones,
and looked at the rain.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Do you read or write poetry, and why?
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