I am lazy, the laziest girl in the world. I sleep during the day when I want to, 'til my face is creased and swollen, 'til my lips are dry and hot. I eat as I please: cookies and milk after lunch, butter and sour cream on my baked potato, foods that slothful people eat, that turn yellow and opaque beneath the skin. Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday I am still in my nightgown, the one with the lace trim listing because I have not mended it. Many days I do not exercise, only consider it, then rub my curdy belly and lie down. Even my poems are lazy. I use syllabics instead of iambs, prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme, write briefly while others go for pages. And yesterday, for example, I did not work at all! I got in my car and I drove to factory outlet stores, purchased stockings and panties and socks with my father's money. To think, in childhood I missed only one day of school per year. I went to ballet class four days a week at four-forty-five and on Saturdays, beginning always with plie, ending with curtsy. To think, I knew only industry, the industry of my race and of immigrants, the radio tuned always to the station that said, Line up your summer job months in advance. Work hard and do not shame your family, who worked hard to give you what you have. There is no sin but sloth. Burn to a wick and keep moving. I avoided sleep for years, up at night replaying evening news stories about nearby jailbreaks, fat people who ate fried chicken and woke up dead. In sleep I am looking for poems in the shape of open V's of birds flying in formation, or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.
From Body of Life by Elizabeth Alexander, published by Tia Chucha Press. Copyright © 1996 by Elizabeth Alexander. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
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 "Donnessa?" 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 as a live Jemima as a buck-eyed rhesus monkey. Girl? Answer me.
From The Venus Hottentot by Elizabeth Alexander. Copyright © 2004 by Elizabeth Alexander. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.