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poetry Skin Hymn

Tanuja Wakefield, daughter of Indian immigrants, depicts the anguish and anger of being taunted for the color of her skin.

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Skin Hymn

By Tanuja Wakefield

Hamilton, you promised me

dung for Valentine’s Day,
because it would match my skin.
You said, again and again,
“You sure, really sure, you ain’t black?”

From a pool of shame I tell you
I didn’t want black.

I wanted the bluest eye, the blondest hair.
I took a washcloth to my knees
to scrub the color out of them.

Hamilton, you sniggered in line
behind me, with your friends,
the spit thickening on your teeth as you grinned.

Even now, a slur rises inside me:
You hambone pink-skinned scent of bacon.
Once, I chased you through the school yard,
shoved you in the back, hard.
You fell on the grass laughing.

Oh, I wanted to crack you with my own bare hands.

Why couldn’t I find your eyes
and love the hell out of you?
And if there was no love to give,
why couldn’t I find words?

 

Like:

Hamilton, my color, this brown,
between red and yellow,
is cellular: a warm sheath
of dung and soil, dirt and earth.
Listen for the radiance.

 

Tanuja Wakefield’s poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. Her first book, Undersong, was published in 2019 by FutureCycle Press. She has an MFA in Poetry from San Francisco State University, an MA in English from Tulane University, and a BA in English from Wellesley College. She lives with her family in Belmont, California where she served as poet laureate from 2015 to 2018.