What the Mirror Said

you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.
somebody need a map
to understand you.
somebody need directions
to move around you.
you not a no place
mister with his hands on you
he got his hands on

– BY Lucille Clifton

hottentot venus to nicki minaj

It was only an ass then
Only a thing to sit on
A thing between your back and your knees
A thing to keep your legs connected to each other
To help you walk proud, upright

Back when I was just Saartjie
Not Venus
Just my mother’s oldest daughter
Poor but dignified
I knew what it meant to raise your head high
To stand and walk tall

They asked me to twerk at midnight too
I was a slave girl
I had no rights
I was in a country totally unfamiliar
But I still said no

And they didn’t force me

They thought I was magic
Poor, little Saartjie could draw a crowd like no other
They would line up to see me
Drawn by that magnetic ass
But how powerful is a chained goat?

They wanted to hold it
I said no
I knew there were some things still worth more than bread and water
I would close my eyes to ignore their searching eyes

You can still say no too, Nicki
You can walk proudly
With all that grandeur
With all that ass
And not place it on a platter for them

You can love your body –
Adore its every curve and indentation
And love it alone

Don’t mistake their applause for admiration, Nicki
They have a sickness too
Those who saw me as other somehow saw themselves too
Their cruel and pulled tight faces were outsiders too
Living outside of what God intended for them
Hoping to find the answer in me

Don’t be fooled my daughter,
One day, you will die too
And they will put you on display like me
Pay homage to that magnificent ass
Make an idol of it
But is that adoration?
Is that true acclaim?


blessing the boats

Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton.


I will always want myself. Always. Darling, I wrote myself a love poem two nights ago. I don’t know where you get this from but I am whole; woman who grows flowers between her teeth. I tend to my garden. I dance myself out of pain. You think women like me crawl for pity? You ever seen the offspring of a lion eat grass? This wanting of myself gets stronger with age. I host myself to myself. I am whole.

– Ijeoma Umebinyuo

for women who are ‘difficult’ to love.

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you

you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours

but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams

so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that

and if he wants to leave
then let him leave

you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love

– Warsan Shire

an unraveling

I couldn’t tell at first what was happening
But I know now.
It was, in fact, an unraveling.
All I heard at the time was this creaking,
a releasing,
a letting go and tearing down of all I had built myself upon.

It wasn’t much, I know.
It came tumbling down like a deck of cards –
all with the tug of just one loose string.
What I had called fine silk,
delicate lace –
You called twine,
With a pull, it came to nothing in my hands.

If there had been a fire,
it would have set ablaze
If I had had a fire, I would have torched it myself.
But there was no fire.
Only wind whipping through these raw and open parts,
just He
or She –
that great benevolence in the sky,
conspiring to do me good,
bidding me, peace – be still.

I couldn’t see it then,
as it all fell apart,
as that slight and lackluster tug
tore the whole thing asunder,
But I see it now.

They needed to pry the sordid pieces from my hands
In order to salvage what was left –
what was good
what was holy
In order to create this broken and beautiful tapestry
I now wear with pride.


Love After Love

BY Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here.  Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit.  Feast on your life.