Mayoral front-runner Bill de Blasio has answered many a question in recent weeks, touching on everything from his favorite pizzeria to what he did on his Cuban honeymoon.
But this morning, during an appearance on W Radio, host Julio Sanchez Cristo asked Mr. de Blasio something new: whether he remembered any poems written by his wife, Chirlane McCray, whom he met while working for former Mayor David Dinkins. Ms. McCray, a former speechwriter and activist who is expected to play a prominent role in a hypothetical de Blasio administration, has penned numerous poems and essays. But Mr. de Blasio revealed that one–a “very, very powerful poem” entitled “I Used to Think”–was one of the reasons he fell for her.
As Mr. de Blasio explained, “It’s about the way she perceived herself growing up as a young African-American girl in a racist society. And it’s a very painful and challenging poem, but very beautiful.”
In the poem, Ms. McCray describes herself as “a Black girl/a nappy-headed, no-haired/fat-lipped/big-bottomed Black girl” who “used to run home crying/that I wanted to be light like my sisters.”
“I love her so deeply, and one of the things I love is that she, despite the difficulties she went through, is such a positive and hopeful person and such a creative person. And so that poem really was one of the things that made me fall in love with her,” Mr. de Blasio told the host.
According to a recent New York Times profile, Ms. McCray was raised in one of the only black families in Longmeadow, Mass., and was subject to painful, overt racism for years. She eventually joined the Combahee River Collective, a collection of black feminist lesbian writers.
Here’s the full poem, which was published in the book Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology.
I used to think
I can’t be a poet
because a poem is being everything you can be
in one moment,
speaking with lightning protest
unveiling a fiery intellect
or letting the words drift feather-soft
into the ears of strangers
who will suddenly understand
my beautiful and tortured soul.
But, I’ve spent my life as a Black girl
a nappy-headed, no-haired,
big-bottomed Black girl
and the poem will surely come out wrong
And, I don’t want everyone looking at me.
If I could be a cream-colored lovely
with gypsy curls,
someone’s pecan dream and sweet sensation,
poetry in motion
without saying a word
and wouldn’t have to make sense if I did.
If I were beautiful, I could be angry and cute
instead of an evil, pouting mammy bitch
a nigger woman, passed over
conquested and passed over,
a nigger woman
to do it to in the bushes.
My mother tells me
I used to run home crying
that I wanted to be light like my sisters.
She shook her head and told me
there was nothing wrong with my color.
She didn’t tell me I was pretty
(so my head wouldn’t swell up).
Black girls cannot afford to
have illusions of grandeur,
not ass-kicking, too-loud-laughing,
mean and loose Black girls.
And even though in Afrika
I was mistaken for someone’s fine sister or cousin
or neighbor down the way,
even though I swore
never again to walk with my head down,
never to care
that those people who celebrate
the popular brand of beauty
don’t see me,
it still matters.
Looking for a job, it matters.
Standing next to my lover
when someone light gets that
“she ain’t nothin come home with me” expression
But it’s not so bad now.
I can laugh about it,
trade stories and write poems
about all those put-downs,
my rage and hiding.
I’m through waiting for minds to change,
the 60’s didn’t put me on a throne
and as many years as I’ve been
Black like ebony
Black like the night
I have seen in the mirror
and the eyes of my sisters
that pretty is the woman in darkness
who flowers with loving.