Cornelius Eady

The Switch

The switch in my mother’s hand
Was how I was taught how she
Was taught.
Was Jesus’ frown.

And what can be done
When nothing can be done,
And what can be fixed
When it’s beyond repair?

This slice of dread schooling.
Raised then lowered.
The sting I must have given,
Returning to my arms and legs.

Nobody’s perfect,
But the switch does its neat job.
My mother is strong,
Stronger when she’s furious.

If you run
It’s like judgment day:
No hiding behind
The chairs or tables.

If you hide
The dolls and pets
Won’t speak up for you,
Friendless boy.

What did your mouth
Give away?
How did your body
Win its violation?

There are days
A child pleases no one.
A hard tattoo
Whelps your skin.

And when we fail,
It’s to this beat
Isn’t it?

This beat that mocks
Our grown years.


Reprinted from Tin House, Vol. 17, Issue 2, Winter 2015, with permission from the author.


Cornelius Eady is a poet, playwright and songwriter born in Rochester, New York in 1954. He is the author of eight books of poetry, including Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam, 2008). His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985; in 2001 Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award. Other awards include Fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Traveling Scholarship, and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award. In 1996 Eady co-founded, with writer Toi Derricotte, the Cave Canem summer workshop/retreat for African American poets. Eady formerly taught at American University in DC and Notre Dame University. He is currently The Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing and Professor in English at The University of Missouri-Columbia.