The Women Who Hate Me

God on their right shoulder
righteousness on their left,
the women who hate me never use words
like hate speak instead of nature
of the spirit not housed in the flesh
as if my body, a temple of sin,
didn't mirror their own.

Their measured careful words echo
earlier coarser stuff say

What do you think you're doing?
Who do you think you are?

From the title poem in The Women Who Hate Me, pg 23.

Bastard Out of Carolina

Family is family, but even love can't keep people from eating at each other. Mama's pride, Granny's resentment that there should even be anything to consider shameful, my aunts' fear and bitter humor, my uncles' hard-mouthed contempt for anything that could not be handled with a shotgun or a two-by-four --all combined to grow my mama up fast and painfully. There was only one way to fight off the pity and hatefulness. Mama learned to laugh with them, before they could laugh at her, and to do it so well no one could be sure what she really thought or felt. She got a reputation for an easy smile and a sharp tongue, and using one to balance the other, she seemed friendly but distant. No one knew that she cried in the night for Lyle and her lost happiness, that under that biscuit-crust exterior she was all butter grief and hunger, that more than anything else in the world she wanted someone strong to love her like she loved her girls.
-- From Bastard Out of Caroline, p. 10.

Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature

I have lived my life in pursuit of the remade world. ....

I believe in truth. I believe in truth denied any use of it can believe in it. I know its power. I know the threat it represents to a world constructed on lies.

I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics--and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised. .... But I also believe in hope. ....

The worst thing done to us in the name of a civilized society is to label the truth of our lives material outside the legitimate subject matter of serious writers. ....

I need you to do more than survive. As writers, as revolutionaries, tell the truth, your truth in your own way. Do not buy into their system of censorship, imagining that if you drop this character or hide that emotion, you can slide through their blockades. Do not eat your heart out in the hope of pleasing them. The only hope you have, the only hope any of us has, is the remade life.

-- Excerpts from "Survival is the Least of My Desires," Skin, p. 211-216.

Two or Three Things I Know For Sure

I'm only supposed to tell one story at a time, one story. Every writing course I ever heard of said the same thing. Take one story, follow it through, beginning, middle, end. I don't do that. I never do.

Behind the story I tell is the one I don't.

Behind the story you hear is the one I wish I could make you hear.

Behind my carefully buttoned collar is my nakedness, the struggle to find clean
clothes, food, meaning, and money. Behind sex is rage, behind anger is love, behind this moment is silence, years of silence.

-- From Two or Three Things I Know For Sure, p. 39.


"Everybody is related to somebody," Nolan would say to Cissy now and then, meaning not that everyone in Cayro was actually related, but that any story you heard was probably like the ones you had not heard, and much closer to your own life than you would want to admit--a tragedy almost surely if you looked at it properly or told it the way it should be told.

-- From Cavedweller, p. 246.