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Poetry

On Your Skin, It Shines

for Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and James Crowley

Tony Brown

It’s an oil,
a white oil,
that gets on everything.
It clumps in dark corners
where if you put a light on it
it’s obvious
but
spread it around enough
and it becomes invisible,
almost intangible
until you try to grip something.

If you’re born coated with it
you learn to forget it’s there.
They — the ones who came before
and know the stuff –
teach you how
to work it, how to make it your friend,
how to hold things.
You don’t even remember it
once you get the knack.

It’s no wonder
that you’re insulted when someone
calls you “slick” as they try to seize you
and make you see how on your skin,
it shines so evenly and on theirs,
it’s a pattern of smears and blotches.
No wonder that when you try to touch
those exposed patches,
it comes between you.

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