Toi Derricotte

The Baby

How much terrible suffering when the baby ends up in the wrong house, when it is dropped there by a stork making a wrong landing, when it lands in a crib at night when everyone is sleeping, when it is crying, when it is twisting in a nightmare, having just left the hand of God. How terrible when the unsuspecting parents wake up for orange juice and instead find something not in their likeness. Perhaps it is blackened like a comic with a big white mouth, or perhaps it is only human and spittle is dripping, perhaps it is allergic to dust, pollen or the mother’s milk, perhaps it is forgetful of the alphabet or to say thank you. Perhaps the good baby went to another house, or this is the good baby in a bad house. Cigars are passed out though, secretly, everyone suspects a big mistake. Poor stork who needs a seeing eye dog or an angel to see over the roofs clearly, to see the right roof at 18575 Norwood, red, and the open chimney swept all down to the bottom where the coals have been put out. The waiting bed with blue sheets, and the little mother not wanting her heart’s bones to be broken. Poor baby, poor mother, who forever have to get along, Perhaps the stork was drinking, perhaps you can complain on your knees until something is done, the baby is killed or dies in its stroller, or perhaps it grows up and commits suicide, and you can start over. It still wants to come back. It remembers the endless loneliness out there and the cold.


Toi Derricotte has published five collections of poetry, most recently, The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). An earlier collection of poems, Tender, won the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks, published by W.W. Norton, won the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her honors include a PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from United Black Artists, the Elizabeth Kray Award from Poets House, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She serves on the Academy of American Poets' Board of Chancellors. Formerly a resident of Maryland, Derricotte currently lives in Pennsylvania and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh.