Puritan Recant Response | Nancy L. Meyer

My Puritan White Skin

After "Big Gay Ass Poem," B.C. Griffiths
City Walgreens, plate glass, sunshine. Single clerk, single line.  
            Customer’s wig: white peaks of frosting against blue-black skin, 
            clerk’s brown cheek and close-cropped Afro.
They chat—smile, unload, check out—
            cart piled high.

Off to the side, I rehearse in my head
            quick question (razor blades? I must be blind ) 

Did I sigh?  Shift my weight?

The customer glares    growls
            The   line   forms
            behind  me 

I jump into place a good ten feet back    cheeks surge red 
            Stand there     feels like an hour 
can’t bear it
            bolt from the store

Pound down the street.  Never get it right, thought I was polite
            off to the side, measured my distance. Looked twice down the aisles. 
Never said a word! 

I thread under skyscrapers.  
Stop dead, mid-stride.   
It wasn’t just me in that line, sun pouring in. 
It was my skin,
my Puritan white skin.

No wonder I jumped out of mine—
turned inside out, back of the line.

Skin, I must remember to see you
though I’ve lived long in your pale veneer. Trail of DNA, 
America since 1639. Cousin here, cousin there, 
look-alikes everywhere.
That shiver when other skin colors show up.

Remember Harlem, ‘64 after the riots,
men jeered Whitey at you clutching
your welfare-worker casebook on Lennox Avenue.  

Three years in Kingston, Jamaica, the epithet Pawk 
after the white meat of the pig. 
Bus ride, straphanging teens snicker. 
Smell of their armpits, rank, over you.

Sure you’ve grown callous 
but I’m appealing to your soft side.
Tender when I smooth sunscreen 
on you every morning.  I love you 
all age-spotted, all you’ve been through.

No blame for carrying this DNA.
But let’s tell the truth.
Not ashamed or blind.

We did plant our skinflag at the head of the line.
Used to that spot. Used to getting what we want 
and be loved at the same time. 

Bet you thought of pulling the ghost trick: hover invisible by
the clerk, whisper your question in the split 
second before she rings up the next bottle of shampoo.

Or did you hope the charcoal-toned woman 
would slip into the 400 year dance—
step to the side, bow to your whiteness?

Did she peel out of the store, 
exhausted by skin, too?
Or furious, exhilarated?    I can’t know.

White skin, sit still with me
on this bench. Feel the rupture—
white and black. How deep 
the wound. Its raggedy lips.
Let’s start here.


©2022 Miroslava Panayotova
Mel called himself mulatto,
so I did too. Thought
it simply named the fact: two
white grandparents, two black.

Not the word for “mule,”
for what comes 
of a horse and donkey fucking.

I think he absorbed it below
the skin, whiplashed by
doors that opened
to his white-appearing face:
slammed against an indelible smear.

Summers as a porter 
on the Canadian Railroad,
Sir, may I shine your shoes?
Earning college tuition.

Now I hear the slurs I missed:

Dirty   Sterile     Hybrid  Half-Caste       

Swallow the barbed “mulatto.” Say
mixed, mixed race. I don’t know
If I’m fooling myself, that removing
this tiny splinter will ease any pain. 
I do know my ribcage expands and 
I feel safer that I will cause less harm.

Response to Diary Fragment: Seventh Son

February 1783: Thursday my husband and I up to
Mr. Arams’ at Muddy Brook. He a seventh son—
we took Phillis with us—think she has a Kings evil.
—Elizabeth Porter Phelps
my 8th great grandmother
Elizabeth, biographers name your kindness
to baby Phillis;
despite enslaving her;

                                                            kind to bring her up 
                                                            from the freezing cellar;
                                                            build a chest to keep her warm; 
            up to Mr. Aram
            for laying on of hands;

after her funeral; held in your Long Room;
you write: a very prety Child,
I hope she sleeps in Jesus;
                                                your pious words rile me;
                                                I stomp about, berating you;

                        self-serving, blind;
                        how easily we split in two—

                                                                       until I stop and think:

I over tip the $3 an hour server;
share cutie oranges with the condo

                                                            hand down computers
                                                            and winter coats; once,
                                                            a piano;
our two homes will go
to our children;

                        college funds for all the grandkids;

            my undocumented trainer 
            cannot get Obamacare; 

                                                kindness without equality 
                                                will not do.

©2022 Nancy L. Meyer
All rights reserved

Nancy L. Meyer…

…she, her, hers: Avid cyclist, End of Life Counselor, grandmother of five. Nancy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work may be found in many journals including: Colorado Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Bitterzoet, Indolent Press, The Centrifugal Eye, The Sand Hill Review, Caesura, Snapdragon, Passager, Ageless Authors, The Asexual, The Writer’s Cafe. Published in eight anthologies, most recently Open Hands Tupelo Press and Crossing Class by Wising Up Press.


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