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i knew you before you had a mother,
when you were newtlike, swimming,
a horrible brain in water.
i knew you when your connections
belonged only to yourself,
when you had no history
to hook on to,
when you had no sustenance of metal
when you had no boat to travel
when you stayed in the same
place, treading the question;
i knew you when you were all
eyes and a cocktail,
blank as they sky of a mind,
a root, neither ground nor placental;
red with the cut nor astonished
by pain, one terrible eye
open in the center of your head
to night, turning, and the stars
blinked like a cat. we swam
in the last trickle of champagne
before we knew breastmilk—we
shared the night of the closet,
closing on our thumbprint,
we were smudged in a yellow book.
son, we were oak without
mouth, uncut, we were
brave before memory.
Toi Derricotte, “In Knowledge of Young Boys” from I: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2021 by Toi Derricotte. Included in Vox Populi by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
Toi Derricotte was the recipient of the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.