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By Toi Derricotte

The most popular “act” in

Penn Station

is the three black kids in ratty

sneakers & T-shirts playing

two violins and a cello—Brahms.

White men in business suits

have already dug into their pockets

as they pass and they toss in

a dollar or two without stopping.

Brown men in work-soiled khakis

stand with their mouths open,

arms crossed on their bellies

as if they themselves have always

wanted to attempt those bars.

One white boy, three, sits

cross-legged in front of his

idols—in ecstasy—

their slick, dark faces,

their thin, wiry arms,

who must begin to look

like angels!

Why does this trembling

pull us?

A: Beneath the surface we are one.

B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.


Toi Derricotte, “Black Boys Play the Classics” from Tender. Copyright ©1997 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, www.upress.pitt.edu. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: Tender (1997)

  • Arts & Sciences
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Toi Derricotte
Born in Michigan, Toi Derricotte is the co-founder of the African-American writers retreat, Cave Canem, and Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. A two-time poetry fellowship recipient from the National Endowment for the Arts, her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks, won the 1998 Annisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction. See More By This Poet

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