367: After all those years of fear and raging in my poems

367: After all those years of fear and raging in my poems

367: After all those years of fear and raging in my poems

After all those years of fear and raging in my poems
by Toi Derricotte

How I thrived from the trifles
in my aunt Lenora’s handbag—Tums,
pencils, Lifesavers, fancy
colored cards—how, in the early morning
before dawn, before
my parents rose, her welcoming sheets
hid me from the house’s
storms. She’d listen to
my far-fetched tales
while I (standing on a stool) “helped”
her dry dishes; or, after, when we’d
walk through the neighborhood’s
deep night, with her
teaching me the stars. Or,
from the time I was three
in the printing department
where she worked—my first job
was to watch eagle-eyed and snatch
errant pages from the thundering
printing press (for 10 cents an hour);
our lunches (as exciting as a rendezvous)
at the Broadway Market—corned beef
with fruit punch and a new dill.
The innumerable dresses and coats
she paid months for, in boxes
with large blue ribbons
and tissue paper, believing
in my astounded body’s signs—
that I could be a beautiful woman.

All the years
of fear and raging
in my poems, the years I continued
in thankless silence—until I was empty
of it…

A slice of almond cake
from the childless woman next door, a few
fried chicken wings from the mother of a
girl whose name I don’t remember, who fried
chicken the way they must fry it in heaven.

It took so many years, the self
breaking like a pod. so many years
to pull up the details
of cruelties that were so quickly
buried—so that one could go on!—to bring all that
to consciousness, to hold that pain
until it writes a poem, to hold it
for years until you learn both
the holding and the writing, to
hold it like my father made me
hold still my knee when he put the iodine
on it, to hold it
in consciousness while emotions fill up
to the brain’s pinnacle, then, to learn
to feel again in thin streaks—like the dissolving streaks
of a meteor—to see in brief
flashings a form, prying
at memory, fitting each recognition
to a hundred words. You,
the seamstress; you, the parent-
killer; you, the lover,
until all that was never said is
said and said so perfectly
that time itself
changes, as if you
emptied the universe,
and everything started—
but again.

"After all those years of fear and raging in my poems ," by Toi Derricotte, from I: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Toi Derricotte, copyright © 2019 University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.