Venus & Serena Play Doubles On Center Court

I find an upscale bistro with a big screen at the bar.
The Williams Sisters will step out on to this Center Court,
for the very first time as a team. I celebrate the event
with my very first Cosmopolitan. I feel like a kid

watching TV in the Before Times: miraculously, Nat King Cole or
Pearl Bailey would appear on the Dinah Shore Show or Ed Sullivan.
Amazed, we’d run to the phone, call up the aunts and cousins.
Quick! Turn on Channel 10!... Three minutes of pride...

Smiling at no one in particular, I settle in to enjoy the match.
What is the commentator saying? He thinks it’s important
to describe their opponents to us: one is “dark,”
the other “blonde.” He just can’t bring himself to say:

Venus & Serena. Look at these two Classy Sisters:
Serious. Strategic. Black. Pounding History.


Copyright © 2020 by Kate Rushin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wrote this poem after watching a broadcast of the Williams Sisters, early in their careers, playing doubles in a major tennis tournament. What an event. For me, the occasion brought back the childhood excitement of seeing an elegant, mesmerizing Black singer or writer on network T.V. where there was no shortage of maids, buffoons and sidekicks. Here were two young Black women on their way to the top. But then, out of nowhere, I found myself caught up short by the commentator’s odd discussion of complexion. It was nothing, really, compared to any number of mean and condescending comments over the years that questioned the intelligence, the athleticism and the style of the Williams Sisters. Still, the words took me out of the moment, as they do so often, for so many Black people. There you are, enjoying yourself, living your life, going about your business, and then, when you least expect it, someone is trying to put you in a color box, a gender box, a femininity box with their assumptions and limitations.”
Kate Rushin