Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination


It requires both a poem & a silhoutte to capture the emotional vicissitude that Toni Morrison’s nonfiction literary work evokes in my right hemisphere. Audre Lorde’s poem enmeshed with Kara Walker’s silhoutte help me sing praise to the great trendsetter of artistic conceptualization of race in America; superb! Might I add, it is her fictional writing that usually entrances the masses. To adore the creative expression of truth surpasses intellect & beauty, I applaud her during my mother’s (and Ms. Morrison’s) birth month as one of our favorite writers:


My face resembles your face 
less and less each day. When I was young 
no one mistook whose child I was. 
Features build coloring 
alone among my creamy fine-boned sisters 
marked me Byron's daughter. 

No sun set when you died, but a door 
opened onto my mother. After you left 
she grieved her crumpled world aloft 
an iron fist sweated with business symbols 
a printed blotter dwell in the house of Lord's 
your hollow voice changing down a hospital corridor 
yea, though I walk through the valley 
of the shadow of death 
I will fear no evil. 

I rummage through the deaths you lived 
swaying on a bridge of question. 
At seven in Barbados 
dropped into your unknown father's life 
your courage vault from his tailor's table 
back to the sea. 
Did the Grenada treeferns sing 
your 15th summer as you jumped ship 
to seek your mother 
finding her too late 
surrounded with new sons? 

Who did you bury to become the enforcer of the law 
the handsome legend 
before whose raised arm even trees wept 
a man of deep and wordless passion 
who wanted sons and got five girls? 
You left the first two scratching in a treefern's shade 
the youngest is a renegade poet 
searching for your answer in my blood. 

My mother's Grenville tales 
spin through early summer evenings. 
But you refused to speak of home 
of stepping proud Black and penniless 
into this land where only white men 
ruled by money. How you labored 
in the docks of the Hotel Astor 
your bright wife a chambermaid upstairs 
welded love and survival to ambition 
as the land of promise withered 
crashed the hotel closed 
and you peddle dawn-bought apples 
from a push-cart on Broadway. 

Does an image of return 
wealthy and triumphant 
warm your chilblained fingers 
as you count coins in the Manhattan snow 
or is it only Linda 
who dreams of home? 

When my mother's first-born cries for milk 
in the brutal city winter 
do the faces of your other daughters dim 
like the image of the treeferned yard 
where a dark girl first cooked for you 
and her ash heap still smells of curry? 

Did the secret of my sisters steal your tongue 
like I stole money from your midnight pockets 
stubborn and quaking 
as you threaten to shoot me if I am the one? 
The naked lightbulbs in our kitchen ceiling 
glint off your service revolver 
as you load whispering. 

Did two little dark girls in Grenada 
dart like flying fish 
between your averted eyes 
and my pajamaless body 
our last adolescent summer? 
Eavesdropped orations 
to your shaving mirror 
our most intense conversations 
were you practicing how to tell me 
of my twin sisters abandoned 
as you had been abandoned 
by another Black woman seeking 
her fortune Grenada Barbados 
Panama Grenada. 
New York City. 

You bought old books at auctions 
for my unlanguaged world 
gave me your idols Marcus Garvey Citizen Kane 
and morsels from your dinner plate 
when I was seven. 
I owe you my Dahomeyan jaw 
the free high school for gifted girls 
no one else thought I should attend 
and the darkness that we share. 
Our deepest bonds remain 
the mirror and the gun. 

An elderly Black judge 
known for his way with women 
visits this island where I live 
shakes my hand, smiling. 
'I knew your father,' he says 
'quite a man!' Smiles again. 
I flinch at his raised eyebrow. 
A long-gone woman's voice 
lashes out at me in parting 
'You will never be satisfied 
until you have the whole world 
in your bed!' 

Now I am older than you were when you died 
overwork and silence exploding your brain. 
You are gradually receding from my face. 
Who were you outside the 23rd Psalm? 
Knowing so little 
how did I become so much 
like you? 

Your hunger for rectitude 
blossoms into rage 
the hot tears of mourning 
never shed for you before 
your twisted measurements 
the agony of denial 
the power of unshared secrets.

-Audre Lorde

Kara Walker.jpg

Kara Walker Silhouette