Black Boys Play the Classics

By Toi Derricotte b. 1941 Toi Derricotte
The most popular “act” in
Penn Station
is the three black kids in ratty   
sneakers & T-shirts playing
two violins and a cello—Brahms.   
White men in business suits
have already dug into their pockets   
as they pass and they toss in   
a dollar or two without stopping.   
Brown men in work-soiled khakis   
stand with their mouths open,   
arms crossed on their bellies   
as if they themselves have always   
wanted to attempt those bars.   
One white boy, three, sits
cross-legged in front of his
idols—in ecstasy—
their slick, dark faces,
their thin, wiry arms,
who must begin to look
like angels!
Why does this trembling
pull us?
A: Beneath the surface we are one.
B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.

Toi Derricotte, “Black Boys Play the Classics” from Tender. Copyright ©1997 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: Tender (1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Toi Derricotte b. 1941

Subjects Music, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Music, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.