January 11, 2022
  • January 11, 2022

on poetry: the dignity of dressing for a special occasion | New

By on December 5, 2021 0

Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, or some other solstice celebration, there is almost always an “once a year” decoration of our homes and ourselves. You Derricott sees his mother, who obviously works hard all year round, dressing for once. But that’s just the start of what there is to see here.

I read this poem knowing that You are a black woman with fair skin. But even if I didn’t, I would see how the poem has a deep subtext. It’s about learning dignity, watching a woman set an example for her daughter. It’s a difficult life. The first line of the poem is “My mother was not impressed by her beauty.” He is a practical person. She must have been. Her hands look old and “whiter on the inside than they should have been” after being rubbed. The hands hardly know what to do on their own without the bucket and brush, the utility.

The daughter remembers the years of watching her mother struggle with her self-esteem, tearing chin hairs, magnifying every stain in her mind “as if acid was thrown from within.” Wow, what a perfect picture of self-aversion. It is a memory for the girl.

But there is also this other memory – the girl saw her mother getting dressed: mascara, foundation, petroleum jelly. And the nails, filed to a point and painted in cheerful colors. And as the mother prepares to put on her ironed dress, she allows her daughter to stand on the bed, to look her in the eyes. A lesson. Learn to love yourself. Respect you. Get dressed.

Toi Derricotte is a native Michigander. She was born in Hamtramck, Michigan and received her BA from Wayne State University. She then obtained her MA in English Literature from New York University. One of her earliest collections of poems, “The Empress of the House of Death” (1978), draws on her experiences at her grandparents’ funeral home in Detroit.

I think the Poetry Foundation’s notes on Derricotte could particularly shed light on this particular poem.

“Derricotte’s family life has been marked by death, abuse, pain and racism; coupled with her Roman Catholic education and fair skin, she often felt alienated and guilty. In an interview with Contemporary Authors, Derricotte revealed that: “As a black woman, I have always been confused about my ‘sins’, not knowing what flaws were in me and what flaws were the result of projections of others. ”She added that“ the truth in my art is also a way of separating my ‘me’ from what I’ve been taught to believe about my ‘me’, the degrading stereotypes about black women.

Is it a Christmas poem? It’s mine. We go to great lengths to honor the season. We honor each other with gifts. Here is a poem that takes us inside the hard work of honoring ourselves.

Fleda Brown of Traverse City is Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware and a former Delaware Poet Laureate. To learn more about his work, visit www.fledabrown.com. To subscribe to her bi-monthly Wobbly Bicycle blog, contact her on her site.


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