Unknown Woman, 1964 by Lolita Stewart White



I am you. 
You are me.
Colored woman captured
in a photograph.
Everything’s black & white—
even the Louisiana heat’s
as stiff as white folks
when they fix
their gaze on
you
             me.

When the cameraman
looks through the eyepiece,
you
             me
are carrying on
the way folk do
in a picture show,
dashing past
the wooden shoe-shine stand
where the Negro boy
in sun-bleached overalls
poses and a bicycle leans
against the frame’s
sharp edge.

You
            me,
run toward the colored men
frozen in the foreground,
their fingers clutching
shoe-shine brushes
and spit-polished shoes.

You
             me,
move through
the middle distance.
One arm and leg
disappear in celluloid;
the blurred O
of our mouth
calls out his name.

You
            me,
reach frantically for Frank,
who stands dead center.
Haloed by a visor,
his face shines;
his eyes stare
defiantly ahead.

You
             me,
see beyond
the edges
of this portrait.

We
            smell
                        smoke



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Frank Morris (in the apron and visor) is seen standing in front of his shoe shop in Ferriday, La., in the 1950s. He was killed when the shop burned down in 1964. Until now, the case has gone unsolved. Courtesy of the Concordia Sentinel and William Brown

Frank Morris (in the apron and visor) is seen standing in front of his shoe shop in Ferriday, La., in the 1950s. He was killed when the shop burned down in 1964. Until now, the case has gone unsolved.

Courtesy of the Concordia Sentinel and William Brown


Contributor Notes

Lolita Stewart-White, a Cave Canem fellow, is a winner of the Fred Shaw Poetry Discovery Poetry Competition. She has published poems in Rattle, African Voices, and Iowa Review. Her films have been exhibited at the Los Angeles Pan African Film and Arts Festival and the Seattle Langston Hughes’s African American Film Festival. Most recently she was named the winner of “Pitch Miami” sponsored by the Women’s International Film Festival.