If you understand my accent,
You will know it is not out of ignorance.
Broom sedge in wind has curved this bent
Into speech. This clay of vowels, this diffidence
Of consonantal endings, murmurs defeat:
Caught like a chorus from family and servants.
This is the hum of blessings over the meat
Your calvary spared us, echoed from an aunt's
Bleak pantry. This colorless tone, like flour
Patted onto the cheeks, is poor-white powder
To disguise the minstrel syllables lower
In our register, from a brownface river.
If it sounds as if minds were starved,
Maybe fatback and beans, yams and collards
Weighed down by vitamins of wit, lard
Mired speed, left wetlip dullards
In cabins by cotton. But if bereft
Of the dollars and numbers, our land's whole
Breath stirs with its Indian rivers. Our cleft
Palate waters for a smoke of the soul,
A pungence of pig the slaves learned
To burn in pits by the levee. This melon
Round of field and farmer, servant turned
Tenant, longs for a clear pronunciation,
But stutters the names of governors, Klan
And cross-burnings, mad dogs and lynchings.
So ours is the effacing slur of men
Ashamed to speak. We suffer dumb drenchings
Of honeysuckle odor, love for a brother
Race which below the skin is us, lust
Projected past ego onto this shadow-other.
So we are tongue-tied, divided, the first
To admit face to face our negligence
And ignorance of self: our musical tone
Of soul-syllable, penchant for the past tense,
Harelip contractions unable to be one.
Reprinted from "Selected Poems" by permission of Duke University Press. Copyright 2005.