The Paris Review

Poetry Rx: Still, Somehow, We Breathe

In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Sarah Kay is on the line.

© Ellis Rosen

Dear Poets,

I recently had an uncomfortable interaction with a member of my fiancé’s family. This person met my dad, and then later commented to me that they were surprised by “the way he looked.” What they meant was, even though they knew of my pacific-islander ancestry, they were surprised my father was brown. I have been stuck on this interaction, and on other moments in my life when someone has made thinly veiled racist comments to me assuming that my light skin color means I am willing to listen to their derogatory, bigoted bullshit. Is there a poem to help with the frustration and guilt of moving through a world that affords me more safety and privilege simply because I was born with lighter skin than my dad and the other people whom I love dearly?

Sincerely,
Passing Through Life

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review5 min read
Staff Picks: Ducks, Dubs, and Dung
Nicole Flattery. When I moved to New York, I was overwhelmed by the sense that everyone I encountered was desperately holding themselves together. I could not escape the feeling that I, too, must be very careful, that if I were not, some crack in my
The Paris Review8 min read
The Gift of Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’
Lewis Hyde photo: Ruben Cox. Gifts pass from hand to hand: they endure through such transmission, as every time a gift is given it is enlivened and regenerated through the new spiritual life it engenders both in the giver and in the receiver. And so
The Paris Review13 min read
Failing the Driving Test with Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry is widely recognized as one of the most gifted fiction writers to emerge from the English-speaking world in the new century. Five years ago, a critic in the Montreal Gazette spoke of a growing view that in him, “an heir to the great Irish