In the early nineteen-eighties, the black men
were divine, spoke French, had read everything,
made filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce,
listened artfully to boyfriend troubles,
operatically declaimed boyfriend troubles,
had been to Bamako and Bahia,
knew how to clear bad humours from a house,
had been to Baldwin’s villa in St. Paul,
drank espresso with Soyinka and Senghor,
kissed hello on both cheeks, quoted Baraka’s
“Black Art”: “Fuck poems / and they are useful,”
tore up the disco dance floor, were gold-lit,
photographed well, did not smoke, said “Ciao,”
then all the men’s faces were spotted.
Elizabeth Alexander is the author of the memoir Light of the World (Grand Central Publishing, 2015) Her five books of poems include: The Venus Hottentot (University Press of Virginia, 1990; reissued by Graywolf, 2004), Body of Life (Tia Chucha, 1996), Antebellum Dream Book (Graywolf, 2001), American Sublime (Graywolf, 2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and was one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books of the Year; and her first young adult collection (co-authored with Marilyn Nelson), Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (Front Street, 2007), winner of the Connecticut Book Award. Her essay collections include The Black Interior (Graywolf, 2004) and Power and Possibility (University of Michigan, 2007). Her play, “Diva Studies,” was produced at the Yale School of Drama. In 2009, she composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Dr. Alexander has been awarded numerous prizes, fellowships, and other honors. She is currently a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale.
For more information, visit elizabethalexander.net
This poem originally appeared in American Sublime and is reprinted with the kind permission of Graywolf Press.
Photo: Solomon Ghebreyesus