_ Racist: takes a machine to know one? Poet Karen Skolfield parodies
the obsession of skin color. _
At the Mall, There’s a Machine That Tells You If You Are Racist
By Karen Skolfield
It’s right next to a Polaroid booth.
The instructions say the needles are small
and barely felt. The pictures, it explains,
have nudity, but no gratuitous nudity.
Special imaging equipment considers
the color value of your own skin
and calibrates your reactions
to words shouted in your headphones.
You know what words. Reading the instructions
brings some of these words to mind. You wonder
if this is part of the evaluation, if people
who are not racist think only of beautiful flowers,
or are beautiful flowers the very basis of racism?
Does everyone love the violet equally?
Does everyone think the tulip’s been overdone?
You try to think of a brown flower.
There are some. You’ve seen them in catalogs.
They’re called “chocolate.” Black flowers, too,
with varieties named Nightwatch,
Black Pearl, a lily named Naomi Campbell.
Thinking of this makes you hopeful
the machine will know you’re not a racist.
Or does remembering a black flower was named
Naomi Campbell mean you’re a racist?
The inside of the booth is dimly lit with walls
that look as if they could swiftly close together.
Like a grape, you’d pop right out of your skin.
KAREN SKOLFIELD’S book _Battle Dress_ (W.W. NORTON
[[link removed]], 2019) won the Barnard
Women Poets Prize and her book _Frost in the Low Areas_ (Zone 3
Press, 2013) won the PEN New England Award in poetry. Skolfield is a
U.S. Army veteran and teaches writing to engineers at the University
of Massachusetts Amherst.