“Bulletin”(1) by Cheryl Clarke
Disguising her vigilance with passive stance, she read the
bulletin stealthily, with some difficulty and great understanding.
The General will esteem it as a singular favor if you can
apprehend a mulatto girl, servant and slave of Mrs.
Washington, who eloped from this place yesterday. She
may intend to the enemy. Her name is Charlotte but in
all probability will change it. She is light-complected,
about thirteen years of age, pert, and dressed in brown
cloth westcoat and petticoat. Your falling upon some
method of recovering her will accommodate Mrs.
Washington and lay her under great obligation
to you. A gentle reward will be given to any soldier
or other who shall take her up.(2)
A spray of brown fluid splashed upon the publishing. She tore it down from its post and ground it into the dirt.
‘I bootblacked my face and hands
and any other parts that shows.
Ain’t answering to Charlotte, nigger,
nor no other name they give me.
I’m wearing a westcoat and pants,
left the petticoat in a cornfield.
I’m sixteen. Thirteen was a lie the owner
told the auctioneer.
I’m evil, mean, and will use my knife.
I dips snuff, chews tobacco, smokes a pipe.
Ain’t no son of Satan gon fall on me lessn
he want his tail curled.
Won’t be intendin tward no white folk
—all of ems enemies.
I’m headed West.
I’ll swim any river—maybe the Ohio—
follow any star.
(1) From Clarke, C. The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry, 1980-2005, 289.
(2) Stockton, F. “Slaves of New Jersey,” in Stories of New Jersey. 1896. And whoever try to take me up may be ketchin his guts as he run.’
From Clarke, C. The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry, 1980-2005, 193.
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Cheryl Clarke Artist Statement:
Cheryl Clarke is the author of five books of poetry, Narratives: poems in the tradition of black
women (1982; digitized, 2014); Living as a Lesbian (1986; reprinted by Sinister Wisdom Press,
2014), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), the critical study, After Mecca: Women
Poets and the Black Arts Movement (2005), and her collected works The Days of Good Looks:
Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (2006), and her fifth book of poetry, By My Precise Haircut (2016),
is now available from The Word Works Press. Her writing has appeared in numerous
publications since 1979. Colleagues and students held an intergenerational gathering, “Cheryl
Clarke: A Future Retrospective,” at Rutgers University to honor her for her writing in 1973. Also
in ’73, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center (N.Y.) presented
her with the David Kessler Award for contributions to LGBT communities. She is a founder and
co-organizer of the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers. Visit: www.