729: Fiery Young Colored Girl

729: Fiery Young Colored Girl

729: Fiery Young Colored Girl


I’m Nate Marshall and this is The Slowdown.

For a lot of my professional life, I have had an office. Sometimes, like when I was a part-time professor, that office was shared, cramped, and windowless. Sometimes, like in my first full-time teaching job, the office was spacious and felt opulent, with bookshelves and high ceilings and enough room to have a small dance battle. Sometimes, like in my time as a nonprofit administrator, the office was…not really an office but instead the dreaded ‘open office’ of startup lore, where I got so little done because I am so easily distracted by other people.

In all these varied office spaces I’ve been a white-collar worker, or what my family might call, having a ‘sit down job.’ This means I’ve known the wonder of a good administrative assistant. Those workers in an office setting, who are often the most reliable, most underpaid, and frankly most competent people in the building.

Anyone who has worked in an office like I have has probably seen just how vital these workers are as the brain at the center of any business or organization or department. These workers not only know everything you should have learned when you were daydreaming through your orientation, they often know so much more about the inner workings of any workplace.

Today’s poem celebrates one such worker, who not only knew more about her workplace, but society at large.

Fiery Young Colored Girl
by Alison C. Rollins

My grandmother had four children,
my father the first to be born.
She went to school alongside him
as the first colored secretary of Quincy
High. Monday through Friday she care-
fully applied her nude panty hose.
Every morning she listened to the sound-
track of her heels as she teetered down
the stairs to the school’s basement.
Her role was to work out of sight from
the public, to file records by the glow of
one flickering lightbulb. She organized
the school’s records for the state.
One day she let her red nails wander
and managed to stumble upon her own.
She cringed in the shadow of her frame
on the wall, studied the curves of her
teacher’s perfect penmanship.
Beneath her name on her
final transcript:
fiery young colored girl
sensitive about race

"Fiery Young Colored Girl" by Alison C. Rollins, from LIBRARY OF SMALL CATASTROPHES copyright © 2019 Alison C. Rollins. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.