(Jean Toomer)
I did not wish to “rise above”
or “move beyond” my race. I wished
to contemplate who I was beyond
my body, this container of flesh.
I made up a language in which to exist. 
I wondered what God breathed into me. 
I wondered who I was beyond
this complicated, milk-skinned, genital-ed body. 
I exercised it, watched it change and grow. 
I spun like a dervish to see what would happen. Oh, 
to be a Negro is—is?—
to be a Negro, is. To be. 

Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.