Lessons from a Mirror
Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.
Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.
Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.
Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.
Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?
Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette
and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.
I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.
And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.
When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.
From The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry.
NEW and USED: Abebooks.com The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry
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About the meaning read this post by Tara Betts: ““Lessons from a Mirror” is from Moss’ third collection. Pyramid of Bone was part of the Callaloo Poetry Series, which published early books by Rita Dove, Brenda Marie Osbey, and Elizabeth Alexander.
“Lessons from a Mirror” is a concise gathering of 10 couplets that articulates the contrast between a woman of color and someone who she will never be, Snow White.
This not only implies a sense of possible servitude but a sense that a shadow, darkness will always be beneath whiteness that
darkness must bow and defer as an underling.
“And it’s not enough.” To say this, recalls how black people have often had to work much
harder to gain a toehold
similar to counterparts of another race, a toehold that has become increasingly more difficult to gain as shown in recent Pew Research Center study about wealth accumulation and loss in the U.S..
After revisiting Anne Sexton’s poems in Transformations or Lucille Clifton’s biblical poems many times and looking at recent work like Barbara Jane Reyes’ Diwata, Marjorie Tesser’s The Magic Feather, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Miracle Fruit, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and the anthology The Poets’ Grimm, I’m reminded of how necessary
and jarring it is to see
archetypal stories deconstructed, retold, or even replaced with more inclusive stories.”
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