Some context: This poem was inspired by Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, in which the protagonist kills her infant daughter rather than handing her over to slave masters.

Thick red.
Red like a fistful of crushed berries,
Like juices bleeding through clenched knuckles,
Red that stains palms –
That is the color of a mother’s love.
Love too big and heavy for a single set of shoulders,
Love that breaks your back and bows you to the earth.
I killed my baby.
I killed my baby because I loved her too much,
Too much to give her up to a world that would only
Enslave her, rape her, and drain her of her all –
Too much to hand her over to the monsters at our door.
With love, I raised a saw to her throat.
With love, I tore her open and let her out,
Bent the bars of her prison and sent her running free into the dark.
Let me tell you about the color of skin coming apart
Like threads from a scarf – the color of unraveling,
Taking apart what your body worked nine months
To produce healthy and whole,
Destroying what you labored so long and so hard to create.
Show me beatings, show me lynchings
And I’ll show you killing as an act of kindness.
What you call a perversion of nature
I call an act of humanity.
Let me tell you about the color of chains
That are there even when they are not
And what it means when those chains rattle,
How you jump like a dog scared out of its skin and
Bare your teeth when your master raises his hand to hit you.
Let me tell you about men pounding down your door,
Men coming to claim your children.
Look me in the eye and tell me you would not do the same –
Would not gather your babies into your arms
And send them to a place safe from such violence.
Don’t think for one second it was easy;
Seeing color drain from baby cheeks
Makes you want to gouge your eyes out
And never see colors again.
I only did what was necessary,
What was right –
And if you mark me down as an animal
I have only this to say:
I was never more human than I was in that moment,
My hands stained with murder
And the color of mercy.


21 thoughts on “Color

      1. Ok. I wasn’t ready but I read it anyway.
        I have only this to say:
        I am never more human than when
        reading words such as these.
        I was right.
        Such power.
        You get straight to the heart of the matter.
        Then you tear off our eyelids,
        rip out that heart and put it there
        on the table in front of us.

        Thank you.

  1. Natalie,

    This whole poem is a deep, insightful, horrifying, honest and personal look at slavery. And for this, it’s a very fine poem. But then you take that extra leap to the brilliance of universal knowing with this line:

    “Let me tell you about the color of chains
    That are there even when they are not”

    I often ponder the invisi-shackles we (who consider ourselves the most free in the world) drag with us everywhere. Thanks for this reminder.

    This your best. Flag it for your book-to-come. 🙂


    1. Alice,

      I must say, this comment gives me courage. I have to read this in front of my English class tomorrow, and I’m terrified. Terrified of offending someone, terrified of judgement, terrified that it has no merit as a poem. You’ve made me unafraid, and – dare I say it? – brave.

      Your words mean so much to me. I don’t know what your voice sounds like, but I can still hear you shouting across the universe to me. I collect all your words and keep them in my pocket for rainy days. Thank you.


      1. Natalie,

        Knock ’em dead!

        Well… METAPHORICALLY dead. Not ACTUALLY dead. You’re a poet. You know what I mean. 😉

        I’m glad that you have a chance to read this out loud. It’s an important piece and should be spoken.

        You will stun them. Metaphorically.



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