The Minks

By Toi Derricotte b. 1941 Toi Derricotte
In the backyard of our house on Norwood,   
there were five hundred steel cages lined up,   
each with a wooden box
roofed with tar paper;
inside, two stories, with straw
for a bed. Sometimes the minks would pace   
back and forth wildly, looking for a way out;
or else they’d hide in their wooden houses, even when   
we’d put the offering of raw horse meat on their trays, as if   
they knew they were beautiful
and wanted to deprive us.
In spring the placid kits
drank with glazed eyes.
Sometimes the mothers would go mad   
and snap their necks.
My uncle would lift the roof like a god   
who might lift our roof, look down on us   
and take us out to safety.
Sometimes one would escape.
He would go down on his hands and knees,   
aiming a flashlight like
a bullet of light, hoping to catch
the orange gold of its eyes.
He wore huge boots, gloves
so thick their little teeth couldn’t bite through.   
“They’re wild,” he’d say. “Never trust them.”
Each afternoon when I put the scoop of raw meat rich   
with eggs and vitamins on their trays,   
I’d call to each a greeting.
Their small thin faces would follow as if slightly curious.   
In fall they went out in a van, returning
sorted, matched, their skins hanging down on huge metal   
hangers, pinned by their mouths.
My uncle would take them out when company came
and drape them over his arm—the sweetest cargo.   
He’d blow down the pelts softly
and the hairs would part for his breath
and show the shining underlife which, like   
the shining of the soul, gives us each
character and beauty.

Toi Derricotte, “The Minks” from Captivity. Copyright © 1989 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: Captivity (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989)

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Poet Toi Derricotte b. 1941

Subjects Youth, Animals, Living, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Toi  Derricotte


Toi Derricotte is an award-winning poet whose writings, though frequently autobiographical, treat universal subjects such as racism and identity in ways that are moving, painful, and illuminating. Her style is credited with an evocative simplicity reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, though it also contains the kind of expansive colloquial expression attributed to Walt Whitman. Derricotte is also known for treating sexual topics with . . .

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SUBJECT Youth, Animals, Living, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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