Outside, I am not a man.
I am a thing
which in fine company
that curious fusion of fear and longing
I have learned to make use of.
I am not a country
though I bear the marks
upon this countenance
of my own wretched, fragrant island
and the hopes of its enslavers
in my name: a rived crossed, a conquered view.
Still, I am not that sad city. I am more
than its vainglory and collective shame.
Here, on this Isle, I am
a continent, I am so large
they cannot grasp my meaning.
Contours loom, unmapped;
my lineaments refuse coherence.
I am the Dark Interior,
that Other, mysterious and lost;
Dread Destiny, riven with vine and tuber,
satiny prowler slithering up behind
his doomed and clueless prey.
Since in their eyes I have no culture,
I am free to borrow strange adornments:
the Ottoman Sultan's quilted turban,
a French phrase, Caesar's cape
flung hyperbolically across Africa's
gaily layered robes. In this way
I have made from their lust a business.
This is their system; they understand
the service I provide–no trifling pleasure.
And if to them I am no more
than a mere phantasm,
a swarthy figment of their guilt,
yet I came to these shores yoked
to my name: Bridgetower, a reach
and a stretch–and now
I would give up my small empire
to you, my son, but not ever
must you forget that you are, indeed,
a Prince–just not the pitiable one
the worship here, not just the one
they can see.
from Sonata Mulattica (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., © 2009 by Rita Dove). All rights reserved. Copying to other websites or any kind of reprint is a violation of international copyright laws and strictly forbidden.