A Wasp Woman Visits a Black Junkie in Prison

By Etheridge Knight 1931–1991 Etheridge Knight
After explanations and regulations, he
Walked warily in.
Black hair covered his chin, subscribing to
Villainous ideal.
“This can not be real,” he thought, “this is a
Classical mistake;
This is a cake baked with embarrassing icing;
Somebody’s got
Likely as not, a big fat tongue in cheek!
What have I to do
With a prim and proper-blooded lady?”
Christ in deed has risen
When a Junkie in prison visits with a Wasp woman.

“Hold your stupid face, man,
Learn a little grace, man; drop a notch the sacred shield.
She might have good reason,
Like: ‘I was in prison and ye visited me not,’ or—some such.
So sweep clear
Anachronistic fear, fight the fog,
And use no hot words.”

After the seating
And the greeting, they fished for a denominator,
Common or uncommon;
And could only summon up the fact that both were human.
“Be at ease, man!
Try to please, man!—the lady is as lost as you:
‘You got children, Ma’am?’” he said aloud.

The thrust broke the dam, and their lines wiggled in the water.
She offered no pills
To cure his many ills, no compact sermons, but small
And funny talk:
“My baby began to walk... simply cannot keep his room clean...”
Her chatter sparked no resurrection and truly
No shackles were shaken
But after she had taken her leave, he walked softly,
And for hours used no hot words.

“A Wasp Woman Visits a Black Junkie in Prison” from The Essential Etheridge Knight, by Etheridge Knight, © 1986. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Essential Etheridge Knight (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986)

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Poet Etheridge Knight 1931–1991

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Crime & Punishment, Class, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

 Etheridge  Knight

Biography

Etheridge Knight began writing poetry while an inmate at the Indiana State Prison and published his first collection, Poems from Prison in 1968. "His work was hailed by black writers and critics as another excellent example of the powerful truth of blackness in art," writes Shirley Lumpkin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "His work became important in Afro-American poetry and poetics and in the strain of Anglo-American . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Crime & Punishment, Class, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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