Toi Derricotte: Speculations about I

​I didn’t choose the word — 

it came pouring out of my throat

like the water inside a drowned man.

I didn’t even push on my stomach.

I just lay there, dead (like he told me)

& “I” came out.

(I’m sorry, Father.

“I” wasn’t my fault.)



(How did “I” feel?)

Felt almost alive

when I’d get in, like the Trojan horse.

I’d sit on the bench

(I didn’t look out of the eyeholes

so I wouldn’t see the carnage).



(Is “I” speaking another language?)

I said, “I” is dangerous.

But at the time I couldn’t tell

which one of us was speaking.



(Why “I”?)

“I” was the closest I could get to the

one I loved (who I believe was

smothered in her playpen).

Perhaps she gave birth

to “I” before she died.



I deny “I,”

& the closer

I get, the more

“I” keeps receding.



I found “I”

in the bulrushes

raised by a dirtiness

beyond imagination.

I loved “I” like a stinky bed.

While I hid in a sentence

with a bunch of other words.



(What is “I”?)

A transmission through space?

A dismemberment of the spirit?

More like opening the chest &

throwing the heart out with the gizzards.




Years later “I” came back

wanting to be known.

Like the unspeakable

name of God, I tried

my 2 letters, leaving

the “O” for breath,

like in the Bible,




I am not the “I”

in my poems. “I”

is the net I try to pull me in with.


I try to talk

with “I,” but “I” doesn’t trust

me. “I” says I am

slippery by nature.



I made “I” do

what I wasn’t supposed to do,

what I didn’t want to do — 

defend me,

stand as an example,

stand in for what I was hiding.

I treated “I” as if

“I” wasn’t human.



They say that what I write

belongs to me, that it is my true

experience. They think it validates

my endurance.

But why pretend?

“I” is a kind of terminal survival.



I didn’t promise

“I” anything & in that way

“I” is the one I was most

true to.

 —Toi Derricotte. 

Source: Poetry (September 2016).