Working as a cashier
while being black
teaches you a few things,
but none so important as this:
people assume you've done nothing
with your life because of the job you have.
My saving grace is my wit.
But before I can speak, I
must be spoken to.
I must be acknowledged as an equal.
Without my Heidegger,
Milton, Ellison, Aristotle,
Flaubert, Faulkner, and Morrison,
I would have no shield,
being merely a black body thought
to have no brain, and thus
a lesser soul.
No customer with any real money in their pocket,
of any color or creed,
gives the benefit of the doubt that
someone like me might be cultured,
might have a sensitivity to matters
of a higher aesthetic,
might be someone a little bit more complicated,
without those books either being in my hands,
or constantly near the register.
And so a lesson I learned quite early as a child
aids me well in presenting my humanity
to the masses that I must accommodate:
To be an intellectual,
I must carry the articles of an intellectual,
and then and only then
can I astound, as nappy hair
and dark black skin,
almond eyes, and full lips,
the opulent embodiment
of a fervent autodidactism
and unconquerable will.