She walked along the crowded street
Forgetting all but that she
Was walking as the other girls
And dressed as carefully.
The windows of the stores were frilled
To lure femininity,
To empty little pocketbooks
And assuage queen vanity.
And so my walker liked a dress
Of silver and of gold,
Draped on a bisque mannequin
So blond and slim and bold.
She took the precious metal home
And waved her soft black hair;
Powder, rouge and lipstick made
Her very neat and fair.
She slipped the dress on carefully,
Her vain dream fell away. . . .
The mirror showed a brownskin girl
She hadn’t seen all day!
“ You have classic features,
Something like Cleopatra.
Eyes like whirlpools
And as dangerous. . . .
Weeping willow eyelashes
Shade the mighty depth
Of your eyes. Your lips
Are danger signals
Which a fool like me
Will not regard. . . .
But go dashing past them
To gain a kiss . . . or Death. ”
That is what he said to me,
I filled with a sweet and vain regret
That Beauty, the stranger, and I had met.
His praise was heat to drink me dry.
So I found a stream, and with a sigh
I stooped to drink . . . ah, to see
The cruel water reflecting me!
Dark-eyed, thick-lipped, harsh, short hair . . .
But Lucifer saw himself, too, fair.
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.