The white children applaud and laugh
When they catch you singing those songs of yours,
And they themselves recite some of the Spiritual verses
From when they found and heard you singing them before.
But their parents dislike how you all learned the songs
Of the Church, and then had to blacken them up,
So the music stops whenever they’re nearby in the big house,
And making their meals on an empty stomach
Somehow feels even worse without the music of God or songs of hard luck.
And after breakfast, when your apron and head rag
Have been disheveled by batter and sweat,
And your hunger and senses have been tempted to partake,
But you must always wait, they order you still for more;
They tell you that you may eat after you dust off the parlor mirrors,
Knowing that in your present attire after a morning of household chores,
That the parlor mirrors are at their cruelest with their stares.
Matthew Johnson is a three-time Best of the Net Nominee and author of the poetry collection, Shadow Folks and Soul Songs (Kelsay Books), and a forthcoming title by NYQ Press. His poetry has appeared in Maudlin House, Roanoke Review, Northern New England Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, amongst others. A former sports journalist for USA Today College and the Daily Star (Oneonta, NY), he now lives in Greensboro, NC. Having earned his M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro, he’s the managing editor of The Portrait of New England and poetry editor of The Twin Bill. He can be found on his website matthewjohnsonpoetry.com and on twitter @Matt_Johnson_D.