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like burnt scraps
of paper in the air,
and with so much
distress she would
straight as silk,
light as milk,
and with so little
care for the small
black girl she might
see peering at her
from behind a mirror,
a terror of tone,
the wrong kind.
She dressed in the wake of such early morning light,
knowing her duty to a sound and silent beauty
that they took for granted, thought was of her nature.
A beauty that was hers, to them. Not hers, privately.
And intimately, ever changing and warped, and always "right."
Because in the silence of such reflections, she felt it stab,
their words, the sound it left in her much like the tone of her skin,
and always in service of some tradition of a hated, exclusive beauty.
And the terror in one morning upon the discovery that beauty could
exclude and that, in her complexion, she felt the dirt roots which
they regarded upon her as if she still lived to the land and its excavation
for and by a skin that was "right", that, in her sight, could give to her in ways
that her reflection, dimmed in such dusted views, seemed to threaten.
She dressed in fine shades as to mask the inherent contradiction of her own,
a beauty that could be commoditized, that in such economics she could
test her worth, her value, with a beauty that sustained in their presence,
that did not challenge nor question, that was only ever commercial.
Her skin always "wrong" and hopefully once right. But never right.
Her hair, falling to her shoulder, tangled at home and in bed, in her thoughts,
and in the mirror where she looked upon this alien girl with such loathing as
to fear what her eyes may have seen, such venom in her gaze as to kill.
Her eyes, brown, never blue, never a shade alike but always of dirt, of land,
of a heat that swelled the air and the fields and wrought the music of bees
in the summer air, swelling, propulsive, and always persisting in its remembrance.
She might touch her skin and feel cold from its return, hating it, scorching it,
burning it like the scraps of paper she had seen drifting in the air, the smell
of bitter ash and fever, and a sound unlike any she had ever heard, thrashing, killing,
desperate to get out, get loose, do anything but die in this spot, such want.
And she hated her mother and father for giving it to her, this skin, this unholy,
unwanted beauty, this remembrance for a time that she can only hate because
she knows it now not for what it was but what it wrought. A family, desperate.
Burning. Burning. Skin like paper. Peeling. And every skin, every "sin" it saw,
her being its survivor, its heroine but also its victim of circumstance.
She remembers her grandparents fondly but not for what they did. What they owed.
A skin that could, might be hers. That she rejects, hates, buries, and bruises.
She straightens her hair, lightens her shade, because she no longer belongs to the
dirt or the land or that godforsaken burning that felt like a million blue eyes on her
body, hating her, spitting, scorching, yelling. She burns today like paper. Everyday.
She makes herself up,
drinks herself down,
puts on a show,
in service of an audience
that applauds and shouts
at its paper doll, so coy and thin.
Not knowing that small, burning,
beautiful black girl in the corner who
never loves, never lives, because
her hair will never be as straight
as they supposed it so.
Because they will never know
the burning paper skin.
They think it's sin.
She thinks akin.
Her beauty fades,
her soft, light shades,
eyes brown, never blue.
Gone into the wisps of smoke
rising above the towers which
we commit upon a land that we
deserted her heart upon.
Our paper doll, we play.
Her skin so pale,
her hands so frail.
Our paper doll burns.
She only ever knew how.
And we let her, watching
into the air that cold white
slip, revealing her skin,
black, and with such grace
we cannot even see it.
What beautiful black skin,
such skin, could be,
her own, her eyes
if only she could see.
If only we could see.
That burning beauty.