Vox Populi

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Toi Derricotte: In Knowledge of Young Boys

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;

not yet

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,

the parasitic

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.

Toi Derricotte (African American Registry)

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2022 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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