Move into a four-bedroom apartment with three White girls who talk about the ethical implications of eating red meat and have tapestries from India (via Urban Outfitters) and who can’t pronounce your name yet but love that it means “Thursday.”
Don’t shower the day you planned to take your university ID card picture. Wear a headwrap instead; feel safer around strangers in a strange place. Pay for parking close to the right building. Get asked to take off your “hat.” Sit in your car for thirty minutes until the meter runs out. Plan when to come back later that week.
Go to training for your teaching assistantship. Learn only a small percentage of incoming new students are people of color. Learn fewer are Black.
Stare at your student roster. Pray you have Black students. Take a quiz on FERPA. Look at your students’ directory photos. Be thankful they’re not all White. Start praying for Black students next semester.
After you’ve paid your fees, realize you only have two permanent faculty members. They’re both White.
Walk into your first poetry workshop almost late. Stare at twelve White faces. Pass out a poem about the Middle Passage with an enormous succulent poking the back of your head.
Walk past campus police quickly with your head down.
Mention you don’t read White men anymore. Convince a nice White girl listening in that reverse racism is real. Listen to people tell you how she talked about you all week.
Repeat your name slowly each time you see someone for the first time that day. Remind them you aren’t a ’70s Swedish pop band.
Realize there’s only one other Black person in your program. Seek him out at every opportunity. Smile awkwardly and wonder if you should mention it. Smile awkwardly and wonder if he’s glad he’s not the only one anymore. Smile awkwardly. Never know if you should bring it up.
Order food from the West African restaurant once. Get a text two weeks later from a Black friend. They closed; something about issues with the bank. Delete the restaurant’s number from your phone.
Text one of your brown friends. Recount the microaggressions of the past week. Speak in the accent you want to for the first time that day. Remember they live forty-five minutes away and you don’t have money for gas.
Post about National Black Poetry day in your cohort Facebook group. Type out you’re the only Black poet they know. Delete that before you post. One like. Seen by twenty.
Get pulled aside after workshop by a White classmate. Listen to her tell you you’re the only Black person in the room. Listen to her ask you if you need support. Stare at her. Stammer thank you and afterwards realize no one’s ever asked that before.
Realize, your fifty minutes of teaching, three days a week are the only times you’re in a room with that many people of color.
Keep repeating your name. Two and a half months later. Mispronounce your name in your own head one day. Wonder if you can file a report. Remember the woman to speak to still calls you a ’70s Swedish pop band. Keep repeating.
After four workshops, stop turning in poems about race, racism, enslavement, Blackness, etc. You’re tired. Start a series about growing up in the Midwest. Start to let your classmates forget you’re Black. Rest.
Bring up race in your seminar. Cry in class. Meet the professor after, when she asks if you have a moment. Try to explain to this White woman why you feel so alone. Cry some more. Remind her you’re the only Black poet. Remind her you don’t have the liberty of anonymity. Cry in your car afterwards.
Hear about another police shooting. Walk past campus police more quickly and try to remember to obey minor traffic laws.
Explain the origin of your first name to the Black clerk at the beauty supply store. Grin at her when she tells you she has an Akan day name too; a different day than yours. Chat in the accent you didn’t get to use this week. Relax for a moment.
Go for drinks with a different White classmate after workshop. Order ginger beer and answer when she asks how you’re doing. You’re tired and frustrated and alone. Listen to her say, sweetly, how glad she is you’re here. Nod. Sip your drink.
Start this poem in Starbucks sitting across from a stranger; the only Black person you’ve seen this week. You began your third month today. Wonder how long this poem will be at the end of three years.