Ntozake Shange’s poem “toussaint”


I’m not going to ruin this poem with any commentary. Just read and enjoy. I’m open to discussion in the comments, but I’m not starting it. Ntozake Shange already did.

lady in brown

de library waz right down from de trolly tracks
cross from de laundry-mat
thru de big shinin floors & granite pillars
ol st. louis is famous for
i found toussaint
but not til months uv
cajun katie/ pippi longstockin
christopher robin/ eddie heyward & a pooh bear
in the children’s room
only pioneer girls & magic rabbits
& big city white boys
i knew i wazn’t sposedta
but i ran inta the ADULT READING ROOM
& came across


my first blk man
(i never counted george washington carver
cuz i didn’t like peanuts)
TOUSSAINT waz a blk man a negro like my mama say
who refused to be a slave
& he spoke french
& didnt low no white man to tell him nothin
not napolean
not maximillien
not robespierre

waz the beginnin uv reality for me
in the summer contest for
who colored child can read
15 books in three weeks
i won & raved abt TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE
at the afternoon ceremony
waz disqualified
cuz Toussaint
belonged in the ADULT READING ROOM
& i cried
& carried dead Toussaint home in the book
he waz dead & livin to me
cuz TOUSSAINT & them
they held the citadel gainst the french
wid the spirits of ol dead africans from outta the ground
TOUSSAINT led they army of zombies
walkin cannon ball shootin spirits to free Haiti
& they waznt slaves no more

became my secret love at the age of 8
i entertained him in my bedroom
widda flashlight under my covers
way inta the night/ we discussed strategies
how to remove white girls from my hopscotch games
& etc.
waz layin in bed wit me next to raggedy ann
the night i decided to run away from my
integrated home
integrated street
integrated school
1955 waz not a good year for lil blk girls

Toussaint said ‘lets go to haiti’
i said ‘awright’
& packed some very important things in a brown paper bag
so i wdnt haveta come back
then Toussaint & i took the hodiamont streetcar
to the river
last stop
only 15¢
cuz there waznt nobody cd see Toussaint cept me
& we walked all down thru north st. louis
where the french settlers usedta live
in tiny brick houses all huddled together
with barely missin windows & shingles uneven
with colored kids playin & women on low porches sippin beer

i cd talk to Toussaint down by the river
like this waz where we waz gonna stow away
on a boat for new orleans
& catch a creole fishin-righ for port-au-prince
then we waz gonna just read & talk all the time
& eat fried bananas
we waz just walkin & skippin past ol drunk men
when dis ol young boy jumped out at me sayin
i turned to TOUSSAINT (who waz furious)
& i shouted
‘ya silly ol boy
ya bettah leave me alone
or TOUSSAINT’S gonna get yr ass’
de silly ol boy came round de corner laughing all in my face
‘yellah gal
ya sure must be somebody to know my name so quick’
i waz disgusted
& wanted to get on to haiti
widout some tacky ol boy botherin me
still he kept standing there
kickin milk cartons & bits of brick
tryin to get all in my business
i mumbled to L’OUVERTURE ‘what shd I do’
i asked this silly ol boy
he say
i looked right at him
those skidded out corduroy pants
a striped teashirt wid holes in both elbows
a new scab over his left eye
& i said
‘what’s yr name again’
he say
‘i’m toussaint jones’
i am on my way to see
are ya any kin to him
he dont take no stuff from no white folks
& they gotta country all they own
& there aint no slaves’
that silly boy squinted his face all up
‘looka heah girl’
& i’m right heah lookin at ya
& i dont take no stuff from no white folks
ya dont see none round heah do ya?’
& he sorta pushed out his chest
then he say
‘come on lets go on down to the docks
& look at the boats’
i waz real puzzled goin down to the docks
wit my paper bag & my books
i felt TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE sorta leave me
& i waz sad
til i realized
TOUSSAINT JONES waznt too different
cept the ol one waz in hait
& this one wid me speakin english & eatin apples
toussaint jones waz awright wit me
no tellin what all spirits we cd move
down by the river
st. louis 1955

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