The Weakness

By Toi Derricotte b. 1941 Toi Derricotte
That time my grandmother dragged me
through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up   
by my arm, hissing, “Stand up,”
through clenched teeth, her eyes
bright as a dog’s
cornered in the light.
She said it over and over,
as if she were Jesus,
and I were dead. She had been
solid as a tree,
a fur around her neck, a
light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked on swirling
marble and passed through
brass openings—in 1945.
There was not even a black
elevator operator at Saks.
The saleswoman had brought velvet   
leggings to lace me in, and cooed,
as if in the service of all grandmothers.   
My grandmother had smiled, but not   
hungrily, not like my mother
who hated them, but wanted to please,   
and they had smiled back, as if
they were wearing wooden collars.   
When my legs gave out, my grandmother   
dragged me up and held me like God   
holds saints by the
roots of the hair. I begged her
to believe I couldn’t help it. Stumbling,   
her face white
with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing
away from those eyes   
that saw through   
her clothes, under
her skin, all the way down   
to the transparent   
genes confessing.

Toi Derricotte, “The Weakness” 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 (1989)

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Poet Toi Derricotte b. 1941

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Youth, Living, Relationships

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 Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Youth, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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