Black Lead in a Nancy Meyers Film

Aging, at all. I want that. And to fall
perhaps most honestly in love
beside the ocean, in a home I’ve paid
for by doing as I like: drinking good
wine, dusting sugar over a croissant, or
the stage play I’m writing myself into.
Aging Black woman in neutral summer
turtleneck. Known. And jogging. Lonesome
enough. Eating homemade lavender
ice cream, the moon blooming
through the kitchen window. The distant
sound of waves. Learning
French as a second language.
Votre pâte merveilleux, I smile back.
And then, just like that! Falling, cautiously,
for my busy, middle-aged lover,
who needs me, but has never truly seen me
until now. Our Black friends, celebrating
with hors d’oeuvres. Our Black children
growing older.

Driving at Night

For Laquan McDonald

I think it’s quails lining the road but it's fallen Birchwood.

What look like white clouds in a grassy basin, sprinklers.

I mistake the woman walking her retriever as a pair of fawns.

Could-be animals. Unexplained weather. Maybe they see us

that way. Knowing better, the closer they get. Not quite ready to let it go.

Emancipation Queen

“Emancipation Queen” was a historically Black beauty pageant in Utah.


       It’s true
that beauty
can be a tool
dually wielded    
      robin’s egg
who would know
come from a red-
breasted bird    
      taffeta gown
named for what
the body made
its blue    
      but not the maker
or the blue
from which come
the robin    
      is that emancipation
to leave beauty behind     
     a Black girl      
     on a stage   
     inside the egg
of a robin    
     a Black girl who is
a robin
repeating the question


Related Poems

Time Reviews The Ziegfeld Follies Featuring Josephine Baker, 1936


Before, we pictured her without diamonds,
Without sequined gowns and a face of paint.
We could see that this show was not the time
For a lithe St. Louis girl of her race
To flaunt her flanks in front of New York men.
How could she expect us to find applause,

When we had saved to throw coins of applause
To Fanny Brice1, our star, a diamond
On a stage of lights? Besides, what these men
Wanted was a dream well drawn beyond paint,
Not a life-size black doll flaunting her race
And wares as if this were her place and time.

Parisian and brown? This was not the time
For a poor Negro girl to find applause
When she had given up her one true race
America—for filthy France. Diamonds
Draped from her neck and ears, but even paint
Chips on the wrong surface. A street woman

Posing as a lady—please. Petty men
Could appreciate her dance, which was timed
To a beat of rags and old iron. Paint
The picture true, and let’s save the applause
For patriots—Eve Arden, a diamond,
And Bob Hope, a charm—not this girl with race

On her hips and tongue. The spice of race
Can be sweet or tart; the lips of the man
Who tastes will be surprised. To think diamonds
Will clear the palate is a waste of time.
Sure, we gave Princess Tam Tam2 an applause,
Even if she mumbled through songs and paint,

Even when she would cry and run her paint,
We listened. This is not about her race
But her choice of song, her need for applause
That would outshine Fanny Brice. Any man
Would give her a break, but the place and time
Was not this night. Yes, Brice was our diamond.



They want bananas on hips, not diamonds
On my décolletage. I’m under the paint,
Sinews dancing through segregated time;
It’s not all about jazz or even race.
Fanny Brice’s bland version of “My Man,”3
In smoke-filled bars couldn’t steal an applause,

So how do they think she deserves applause
On Broadway under lights and with diamonds
Dangling from her dewlap? I got a man,
He stays with me when I take off the paint,
And he doesn’t care about this whole race
Hoopla; he loves Josephine for me. Time

Magazine just started taking the time
To acknowledge Negroes, and now applause
From them is supposed to predict racial
Equality on stage? Talent? Diamonds
Determine my success. They can go paint
Broadway as white as they please, all the men

On the Champs will tell you I’m the woman
By which they measure others; only Time
Had a problem with my act, when the paint
Comes off, that’s all it comes down to: applause
From friends not foes. Just look at this diamond
On my hand from my Pepito4; does race

Refract in its eye, or light? You see race
is not real, only light and love; no man,
Negro or white, can change that. The diamond
Holds so much truth because it endures time;
It struggles through nothingness for applause;
It holds its breath, dark, naked without paint

Or the benefit of believing paint
Will change things because she is the same race
As coal underneath it all. And applause
Is just some dream. At times, even my man
Who, after all, is white, doesn’t see time
And again how I’m merely a diamond

Trying to catch some light under the paint. Man,
I’m telling you, race problems will change with time,
Long after applause and this diamond’s light fades.

Fanny Brice, the longtime star of the Ziegfeld Follies, was known for her talents as a comedienne as well as a singer.

Princess Tam Tam was a film starring Josephine Baker, produced in 1935.

“My Man” was a popular song written by Maurice Yvain as “Mon Homme.” Later, the English lyrics were written by Channing Pollock for the Ziegfeld Follies.

Pepito was Josephine Baker’s fiancé from 1935–1936. He died of cancer before she completed the run of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Mae West: Advice

Ban tobacco: do bacon abed,
be delectable, collectable, a decent debacle.
Decollete’ don’t conceal; acne, do. Be bold
and be toned, an octane-blonde coed.
Be colonel not cadet, concede nada to doc;
date a cad and canoodle, be eclat on a cot.
Don’t lean on a deacon, be a dolt, a clone:
don’t bet on an Eden, don’t loot, don’t loan–

Be belle and ball too, a deb Coco-labeled;
be ocelot, be lancet, be candled and cabled.
Cancelled? Debated? Booed at to boot?
Elect to be tall. Don’t tan. Eat local.
Be oded, caboodled, be beacon and lect.
Don’t be a noodle: be cool and collect.

Anti-Chlorinated Feminism

The gospel of the journey is realizing
that eating is a political act,
that the Woodstock of the mind
is everywhere on a tiny planet like ours,

that the inventory of the body
is equivalent to the trauma
that comes from crop-dust in our eyes,
carcinogens in the crotches of our panties,
black women doing the math
that put white men on the moon.

And there are always
more questions for consideration—
like admitting that it’s hard to tell who’s shooting
while we’re praying with our eyes closed.