Grey Girl

(for Yusef Komunyakaa and Toi Derricotte)


We were walking down Park, on the grates over

the exhaust ducts of the lavish apartments,

we were walking on air, on iron bars,

three abreast-four breasts,

two on either side of the man

who had survived through various wars,

my friend and I proud to walk him through the

evening after his reading. Our skirts

faffled, we were tall, we were his color guard, his

woman of color and woman of no

color guard, we were talking about

family and race, and a greed or lust

rose in me to talk about

disliking myself. I was crouching slightly,

spider-dancing over hot air, and I

said, You want to know about white people?

I’ll tell you about white people,

I lived in close proximity to them

and I was them, that meanness they used on me

was what I was made of. Out of the corner of my

eye, I glimpsed myself for a second

in a store window, a swirl of grey, a

thirster after substance. My companions became

quiet, as if they had pulled back,

a bit, and were holding still, with wary

courtesy. In that second, I could almost

sense myself, whuffolk amok,

one who wanted to win something

in the war of the family, to rant in the faces

of the war-struck about her home-front pain.

It is hard to see oneself as dangerous

and stupid, but what I had said was true,

the people who had hurt me most were my makers,

but there had not been what I saw now as a ring

of haters round us, encircling us.

I had a flash of knowledge of this

on the sidewalk-as we kept going, I sensed

two living beings, and one

half idiot, a grey girl walking. Who did she

think she was, to relish herself

for hating herself, to savor, proudly,

the luxury of hating her own people?

All evening, I looked at my friends’

womanly beauty, and manly beauty,

and the table with its wines, and meats, and fruits,

and flowers, I went back to the beginning.

from The Unswept Room (Knopf, 2002), © Sharon Olds 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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