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Mama said they were different

those coffee colored people, different

as the sway and swagger of their bodies,

as the click of their tongues —

birds escaping from strange sounding trees,

different as the dark wool on their heads

as paler skin under sandaled soles


I was thirteen.  Mama and Papa were away,

there were two of them — kitchen maids,

one washing the dishes, the other down on

her knees polishing the wooden floor with wax.

I brushed past her on my way to the table,

a moment of two mingled fragrances —

mauve floor wax and paraffin scented dark skin,

a moment rising from nowhere

through trousered legs under fastened school belt


Perhaps nothing happened

it was so long ago — the two of them

in the kitchen and I — a taunting initiation,

beige cotton skirts, dark skin shading down

to milky coffee softness — a brief laughing

encounter and a mingling of Cobra wax

and paraffin scents


They were different, Mama said —

that day as I walked to school

with a strut and a swagger and at break

managed for the first time to crumple

an empty can of Coke with my bare hands


That day, I knew how being different felt

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© Johnmichael Simon



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