Matthew Lippman

Because I'M Black - Poem by Matthew Lippman


When I ask Gerald why he’s always in the hall
he says, It’s because I’m black,
that’s the joke around school these days,
why don’t you do your homework,
it’s because I’m black,
so I teach them that Emmett Till had a stutter the white man thought was a whistle
and wound up dead in the Tallahatchie River with a blown up head,
and that Stockley Carmichael’s African name is Kwame Ture,
about lynchings and Malcolm X’s piss and vinegar
and they say, hey mr. lipp, it don’t mean anything anyway,
so I pull down the shades and scream spooky
and no one understands
except the kid who reads her encyclopedia of American History
every night before she goes to sleep
so she can get into Duke or Williams
and says, lippman’s a racist
but I tell them I love everyone
and bring in James Brown records to explain groove
and Maria Callas arias to explain angelic
and Juan Felipe Herrera poems to explain to Alan Rodriguez
that the hood is the hood
no matter how many rhymed couplets you need
to get you off,
he says, yo lipp, you speak hispanic
even though you a white-boy jew
and Daviece tells me to shut-up
and Zak looks like a migrant worker picking grapes
and Juliete has a silver stud jammed through her lip and wears
black rock band t-shirts everyday,
when I ask her why she says,
it’s because I’m black,
she’s Sicilian and they all think that’s a kind of pizza,
I’m paddling upstream here,
so I wear green pants and an orange shirt to school,
tell them I love Jamaicans who don’t brush
and cowboys with long thumbs
and the sound of Spanish inside a Taco Bell,
and they call me a spook,
tell me I’m spooky,
ask me why I’m so short all the time
and I have no choice but to sit down with my book on commas and tell them, hey kids,
when you quote the text, put it before the quotation mark
even if you are black,
even if you feel like you’re already a long way from home.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 1, 2008

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