Toi Derricotte


For my unnamed brother (1943-1943)

i was left out
i was chosen second & then left out
i was left
handed i was left
to fend for myself i
was the second in
command the second
in line i came
without direction

i want the
milk i want my
first pick i want
choice & all its implications there was a

residue of
between us it chafed
when we rubbed our
chests together

hello, brother, hello?
hello in there, brother, can you
hear me? it's a long
tunnel to the grave speak

Invisible Dreams

There’ s a sickness in me. During
the night I wake up & it’ s brought

a stain into my mouth, as if
an ocean has risen & left back

a stink on the rocks of my teeth.
I stink. My mouth is ugly, human

stink. A color like rust
is in me. I can’ t get rid of it.

It rises after I
brush my teeth, a taste

like iron. In the
night, left like a dream,

a caustic light
washing over the insides of me.


My dad & sardines

my dad's going to give me a self
i've made an altar called
The Altar for Healing the Father & Child,
& asked him what i could do
for him so he would
do nice for me. he said i should stop
saying bad things about him &, since
i've said just about everything bad
i can think of &, since... well,
no, i change my
mind, i can't promise
him that. but even healing is
negotiable, so, if he's in
heaven (or trying
to get in), it wouldn't hurt

St. Peter Claver

Every town with black Catholics has a St. Peter Claver’ s.
My first was nursery school.
Miss Maturin made us fold our towels in a regulation square and nap on army cots.
No mother questioned; no child sassed.
In blue pleated skirts, pants, and white shirts,
we stood in line to use the open toilets
and conserved light by walking in darkness.
Unsmiling, mostly light-skinned, we were the children of the middle class, preparing to take our parents’ places in a world that would demand we fold our hands and wait.

The Minks

In the backyard of our house on Norwood,
there were five hundred steel cages lined up,
each with a wooden box
roofed with tar paper;
inside, two stories, with straw
for a bed. Sometimes the minks would pace
back and forth wildly, looking for a way out;
or else they’ d hide in their wooden houses, even when
we’ d put the offering of raw horse meat on their trays, as if