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Ladders

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Filene’s department store
near nineteen-fifty-three:
An Aunt Jemima floor
Display. Red bandanna,

apron holding white rolls
of black fat fast against
the bubbling pancakes, bowls
and bowls of pale batter.

This is what Donna sees
across the “Cookwares” floor,
and hears “Donessa?” Please,
this can not be my aunt.

Father’s long-gone sister,
nineteen-fifty-three. “Girl?”
Had they lost her, missed her?
This is not the question.

This must not be my aunt .
Jemima? Pays the rent.
Family mirrors haunt
their own reflections.

Ladders. Sisters. Nieces.
As soon a live Jemima
as a buck-eyed rhesus
monkey. Girl? Answer me.

Elizabeth Alexander, “Ladders”  Copyright © 1990 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: The Venus Hottentot (Graywolf Press, 2004)
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Ladders

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