St. Peter Claver

By Toi Derricotte b. 1941 Toi Derricotte
Every town with black Catholics has a St. Peter Claver’s.   
My first was nursery school.
Miss Maturin made us fold our towels in a regulation square and nap on army cots.
No mother questioned; no child sassed.
In blue pleated skirts, pants, and white shirts,
we stood in line to use the open toilets
and conserved light by walking in darkness.
Unsmiling, mostly light-skinned, we were the children of the middle class, preparing to take our parents’ places in a world that would demand we fold our hands and wait.
They said it was good for us, the bowl of soup, its pasty whiteness;
I learned to swallow and distrust my senses.

On holy cards St. Peter’s face is olive-toned, his hair near kinky;
I thought he was one of us who pass between the rich and poor, the light and dark.
Now I read he was “a Spanish Jesuit priest who labored for the salvation of the African Negroes and the abolition of the slave trade.”
I was tricked again, robbed of my patron,
and left with a debt to another white man.

Toi Derricotte, “St. Peter Claver” from Captivity. Copyright © 1989 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, www.upress.pitt.edu. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: Captivity (1989)

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Poet Toi Derricotte b. 1941

Subjects Christianity, Activities, Youth, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, School & Learning, Living, Religion

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Toi  Derricotte

Biography

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 Christianity, Activities, Youth, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, School & Learning, Living, Religion

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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