I had to be introduced to The Man.
He was around before 1977.
I just couldn’t see him, like air
or welfare. My mother told me:
No matter what you do, the man
is going to try and keep you down.
I already knew no one was keeping
me down. So when teacher asked
me to read from Kaleidoscopes,
I told her back off, white woman.
I’m not reading your books.
She laughed, but understood
when I threw my book, covers
flapping like man’s first scraps
with gravity. Teacher realized
she wasn’t keeping me down,
so I got sent to Remedial English.
When I looked up “remedial,”
the dictionary read: “The Man
questioning your authenticity.”
Then I looked up “authenticity.”
Dictionary definition: “Blackness.”
So I was authentic and the Man
could keep his remedial. Problems
began when I realized my mom
was The Man, too: five feet
two inches, curling red afro,
white with power fist
in the air. Then, half-black,
half-white boy sitting on a stoop,
counting pieces of glass,
trying not to keep himself down.
English B is reprinted from The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003).
Poem, copyright © 2003 by Adrian Matejka
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse