“Elsie” and “Yellow Girl Blues” from THE TRUE BLUE OF ISLANDS

Below is a poem that explores colourism. It comes from my fourth collection of poetry, The True Blue of Islands, published by Sandberry Press in 2005. Another poem that explores colourism, “Yellow Girl Blues,” which comes from the same collection, can be found here on Poéfrika, an amazing website run by my friend and Sesotho poet, Rethabile Masilo: https://poefrika.blogspot.ca/2017/03/yellow-girl-blues.html?m=0

Tomorrow I’ll visit a session called “Colourism: What is it? Why should We Care about It?” at Wilfrid Laurier University, part of Course RE 285 “Religion and Culture of the African Diaspora” taught by Professor Carol Duncan. Many thanks to Professor Duncan for yet another opportunity to engage with her students.


Elsie could cuss like a sailor
rip masts too when she swept
like a storm upgrading
minute by minute trading
levels of intensity spit
shooting like sea foam from
the O of her mouth the eye
of her fury.

                     Of fourteen children
Elsie was last and lightest.
When they said she was no black,
had no fro, meagre melanin,
she don’t protest just slip
out of her blouse peel off
her vest and say “Okay: come
make we take the nipple test.”
And there they were brown crowns
resplendent on each breast.
“If me was white, dem would be pink.
Ink. Quink. Your belly rotten stink.
White. Black. You decent and me slack.
Hip-hip-hurray! Areolae carry the day.”
Elsie could cuss like a tar
Drink any tippler under any bar.
Recite Shakespeare; bring a tear
to your eye rendering Portia’s speech
to the mean moneylender from Venice:
“The quality of mercy is not strained…”
Reaching deep down for feeling
Elsie come up to make you laugh
till your sides hurt expatiating
on the nature of the selfish dirt
a leaven for the unstrained gentle
rain that droppeth down from heaven.
Brown Elsie could cuss like a salt
swab a deck ship invading bilge
water to hold a craft safe
let down any size anchor
haul it up with her hands
and no pulley from the blue
deep. Shin up to the topsail
unfurl a whirl of cloud
so a vessel could fly past
 a hurricane upgrading
minute by minute trading
levels of intensity
winding up ocean and air
thunder and fire
the very stratosphere spun
into the blackening
ire of her fury.
“No way I letting skin and melanin
degrees of kink in hair and booty-size
downpress the little levity that live in my
small chest, bounce in my little tits.
All that is shit. I eating pills enough.”
Same time she lifting up a little miss
eyes beryl green, hair streaming
down her back. “ See. She is mine
and Jesus know how she come so
because her Pa’s pink like a pig –
look how the pikni black!”