Yesterday I heard a terrific interview with poet Marilyn Nelson on the On Being podcast, and in it she read this poem. Beautiful.
Thirteen Year Old American Negro Girl
Yellow Cardigan, Red and White T-Shirt, Jeans
(Clinton-Sherman AFB, Oklahoma 1959)
My face, as foreign to me as a mask,
allows people to believe they know me.
Thirteen Year Old American Negro Girl,
headlines would read if I was newsworthy.
But that’s just the top-of-the-iceberg me.
I could spend hours searching the mirror
for clues to my truer identity,
if someone didn’t pound the bathroom door.
You can’t see what the mirror doesn’t show:
for instance, that, after I close my book
and turn off my lamp, I say to the dark:
Give me a message I can give the world.
Afraid there’s a poet behind my face,
I beg until I’ve cried myself to sleep.
Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn Nelson