Stone Telling

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Mirror Woman

by JT Stewart

              Mirror, mirror on the wall,
              who is the fairest of them all?
                     Brothers Grimm
                     "Snow White"

Let me tell you something.
I'm a woman of African descent
and that isn't just something.
You hear me.
It is some thing.
Yes! I am a woman of African descent.

In a public library restroom
caught a sistah standing behind me
staring in the mirror at me.
"Are you mixed?" she says
at the back of my head.

I say to the mirror "What!"
as in – What's wrong with you, Sistah!
"Are you mixed?" she says
one more time
giving me the once-over
as though she'd paid admission
and was entitled.

Now I shake my hands dry.
I say to the sistah in the mirror,
"What!" as in
What manners did yo Mama
not teach you.

She blinks hard like I'm some
kind of puzzle. "Mixed," she says,
"You know, as in mixed!"
"No  No  No!" I say.

"I am not mixed. I am nobody's
mixed anything!" I hear my voice
rising. "I am a woman of African
descent. Just like you!"

"Passing," she says interrupting.
"Do you ever think of passing?"
"Why?" I say without thinking. "Why would
a woman of African descent want to pass?"

"Easier," she says. "Life would be easier,"
she says. "Easier for what?" I almost say.
"The Price of the Ticket," I say. "That's
what James Baldwin would say."

"Who's he?" she says.
"Pass. You could do it."

I want to hug her. Yes. Maybe I
even want to give her my skin.

I move away
leaving her free to talk with that
other woman in the mirror.

Note: James Baldwin (1924 – 1987)
       internationally known African-American
       scholar / writer / civil rights activist

JT Stewart claims these specialties: poet, writer, playwright, editor, teacher. She gets a warm glow about these achievements: Co-Founder of the Clarion West SF Writers' Workshop and Poetry Editor for Seattle Poets & Photographers: A Millennium Reflection (University of Washington Press). As a woman of African descent, she often writes about cultural collisions and the fortunes/misfortunes of people touched by diasporas – both real and imagined. As a public artist, JT specializes in poetry broadsides of all sizes. She has had her work placed at Western Washington University, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Allen Library at the University of Washington.

The audio for this poem was recorded in the studios of Jack Straw Productions. Engineering by CJ Lazenby.

Read JT's discussion of this poem over at the Roundtable!