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Toi Derricotte: Black Boys Play the Classics

The most popular “act” in

Penn Station

is the three black kids in ratty

sneakers & T-shirts playing

two violins and a cello—Brahms.

White men in business suits

have already dug into their pockets

as they pass and they toss in

a dollar or two without stopping.

Brown men in work-soiled khakis

stand with their mouths open,

arms crossed on their bellies

as if they themselves have always

wanted to attempt those bars.

One white boy, three, sits

cross-legged in front of his

idols—in ecstasy—

their slick, dark faces,

their thin, wiry arms,

who must begin to look

like angels!

Why does this trembling

pull us?

A: Beneath the surface we are one.

B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.

Copyright 2021 Toi Derricotte. From I: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Toi Derricotte is the author of six poetry collections and a literary memoir. She has won numerous literary awards, including the 2020 Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. From 2012–2017, Derricotte served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

Toi Derricotte (African American Registry)

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