A higher education
“Karintha was a woman . . . The soul of her was a growing thing ripened too soon.” —from Cane by Jean Toomer
A 12 by 18 acrylic painting
hangs at the top of the stairs.
Karintha sees it clearly from the kitchen.
The canvas is mid-century. Jagged
cracks overlap irregular polygons.
Jacob painted a brown oval in the center of the canvas.
Karintha marks an X in the box of a college application.
The spot turns to dust.
A guidance counselor sweeps it away.
How black are you? she asks.
Tell her 3/8ths, Karintha’s mother says.
Jacob nailed brown to the canvas.
Her mother nails it to the application.
Karintha searches the spot for a soul.
She scans her ancestry.
Under the brown, a crisp white, deep black.
She will attend pre-orientation.
Her mother says, You won’t belong.
Karintha waits at the airport.
Her ride is light-skinned,
wears frizzy hair and disgust.
Karintha feels color run from her.
Her mother says,
Get your butt in the van.
The brown spot is still there, thank God.
Karintha is apart.
When asked, she admits, I don’t belong.
There are dances
she can’t dance,
women who make fun of the way she talks,
Dust in her teeth,
under her fingernails,
digesting in her stomach.
Dust instead of tears.
She retreats, the painting her only
luggage. Grad school is different
and the same. She is minority convenient
and dusty. Her
invisibility is incomplete.
A company offers her a
job. Teachers make her beg
for a diploma.
The canvas affords no protection.
and festers her skin.
She considers tearing it
from the frame, instead nails
it to the ceiling.
Karintha prostrates herself on the floor.
Beneath the painting, Jacob Lawrence’s
cursive like holy water
on her head.
Katherine Lutz holds a B.A. in Biology and Spanish from Wellesley College and a M.S. in Science Journalism from Boston University. She is a longtime, Boston-based science and health writer and a more recent poet.
"My mother wouldn’t have understood why I wrote this poem. She kept her pain private and thought we should all do the same. I would not say that writing about one of the most challenging experiences in my life was therapeutic or cathartic. It simply had to be said, right out in the open. For in naming it, I pinned it to that moment when it happened, and then it stopped traveling with me like a handle-less suitcase with wobbly wheels. Once it was set in place, I could turn around, to my past, and look at it and myself. Car accidents usually steal our gaze, but I found no twisted metal in these moments. There was no compassion but also no malice. There was just a fumbling in the dark."