The White Me Talks to an Empty Room About His Skin
By Miles Walser
Once I wrote a poem where the narrator was a black man. I’m the writer, not the narrator. It wasn’t about race. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned that I was white. I never knew something so normal needed a name. I did not notice the sameness at my school until a new family moved in – a single drop of dye spilling into a clear pool of water.
Once I was stopped by a cop for riding my bike right through a red light across four lanes of road at three in the morning and walked away with no ticket. It wasn’t about race.
In the poem I don’t make him sound black. I don’t shadow him in sloppy drawl or urban grime.
I studied racism in my college classroom while texting beneath the table. I wore a flannel shirt that cost a week’s worth of groceries and looked like I pulled it out of a garbage disposal. I wore my hood up in class and nobody told me to take it off. I mentored a group of inner-city youth. I couldn’t try the red beans and rice because they cooked with pork and I’m a vegetarian. It wasn’t about race.
I didn’t even want to impersonate a black man, but I wanted to write the poem. It’s my duty to write the poems. Once I got offered a part-time job—and then another, and then another. Bosses liked the big words I used. Integral. Holistic. Experiential. I have been told that my blue eyes are easy to talk to. A stranger once handed me her baby at a bus stop while she rummaged through her bag because I had a familiar smile. It wasn’t about race.
The other guy in the poetry workshop with pale skin and an ally of a pen told me my poem was important and everyone should hear me read it. I’ve always known I was important.
By Miles Walser
She is the only seventeen year old
I’ve ever heard say Vagina
without spilling into giggles
like a lunch tray into a lap.
For her, the word is mechanics,
syllables and science, a sterile
doctor’s office, a police officer
shuffling though paperwork.
Her crying father.
Most times, she says it anesthetically.
But once in a while
I hear her bark it,
state it with the authority
of someone who owns
what they were so afraid
she’d lost forever.
Someone is speaking as they always do.
Radio hits boast of a conquest.
A man insults another man
by calling him the worst thing.
Nobody notices the way the word
races off, searching for a neck
to wrap around.
This endless running with scissors.
This is something’s daughter.
Miles Walser is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in English, Social Justice, and Youth Studies. In 2010 he represented the U of M at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational where his team placed 3rd in the nation and he was named Best Male Poet. His work has appeared in literary journals The Legendary and Used Furniture Review as well as the audio podcast IndieFeed. His first full-length collection, What the Night Demands, is forthcoming from Write Bloody Publishing.