A Piccaninny.

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LO by the "humpy" door a smockless Venus!
Unblushing bronze, she shrinks not, having seen us,
Though there is nought but short couch-grass between us.
She hath no polonaise, no Dolly Varden;
Yet turns she not away, nor asketh pardon;
Fact is, she doesn't care a copper "farden."
Ah yet, her age her reputation spareth;
At three years old pert Venus little careth,
She puts her hand upon her hip and stareth;
All unabashed, unhaberdashed, unheeding,
No Medicean, charmingly receding,
But quite unconscious of improper breeding.
'Tis well; it smacks of Eden ere came sin in,
Or any rag of consciousness or linen,
Or anything that one could stick a pin in.
Could boundaries be neater? posture meeter?
Could bronze antique or terra cotta beat her?
Saw ever artist any thing completer?
A shade protuberant, beyond contesting,
Where this day's 'possum is just now digesting,
But otherwise, all over interesting;
Trim without trimming, furbelow, or bow on;
Was ever sable skin with such a glow on?
So darkly soft, so softly sleek, and — so on?
Did ever fingers scratch a head so woolly?
Took ever child the outer world so coolly,
Though Fahrenheit's at ninety-seven fully?
Was ever known so dark, so bright an iris,
Where sleep of light, but never play of fire is —
Where not a soupcon of a wild desire is?
Oh swarthy statuette! hast thou no notion
That life is fire and war and wild commotion?
A burning bush, a chafed and raging ocean?
Hast thou no questioning of what's before thee?
Of who shall envy thee, or who adore thee?
Or whose the jealous weapon that shall score thee?
Hast thou no faint prevision of disaster —
Of dark abduction from thy lord and master —
Of aliens fleeing, kindred following faster?
No faint forehearing of the waddies banging,
Of club and heelaman together clanging,
War shouts, and universal boomeranging?
And thou the bone of all the fierce contention —
The direful spring of broken-nosed dissension —
A Helen in the nigger apprehension?
Nay, my black tulip, I congratulate thee,
Thou canst not guess the troubles that await thee,
Nor carest who shall love or who shall hate thee:
Recking as little of the human passions
As of the very latest Paris fashions,
And soaring not beyond thy daily rations!
Die young, for mercy's sake! If thou grow older,
Thou shalt grow lean at calf and sharp at shoulder,
And daily greedier and daily bolder;
A pipe between thy savage grinders thrusting,
For rum and everlasting 'baccy lusting,
And altogether filthy and disgusting.
Just such another as the dam that bore thee —
That haggard Sycorax now bending o'er thee!
Die young, my sable pippin, I implore thee!
Why shouldst thou live to know deterioration?
To walk, a spectre of emaciation?
To grow, like that, all over corrugation?
A trifle miscellaneous like her, too,
An object not "de luxe" and not "de vertu" —
A being odious even to refer to?
Her childhood, too, like thine, was soft and tender;
Her womanhood hath nought to recommend her;
At thirty she is not of any gender.
Oh, dusky fondling, let the warning teach thee!
Through muddiest brain-pulp may the lesson reach thee,
Oh, die of something fatal, I beseech thee!
While yet thou wear'st the crown of morning graces,
While yet the touch of dawn upon thy face is —
Back, little nigger, to the night's embraces!
Hope nought: each year some new defect discloses;
As sure as o'er thy mouth thy little nose is,
Thy only hope is in metempsyehosis.
Who knows but after some few short gradations,
After a brace or so of generations,
We two may have exchanged our hues and stations?
Methinks I see thee suddenly grow bigger,
White in the face, and stately in the figure,
And I a miserable little nigger!
Should this be thus — oh come not moralising!
Approach not thou my humpy poetising!
Spare thine Iambics and apostrophising!
Let subtle nature, if it suit her, black me,
Let vesture lack me, bigger niggers whack me,
Let hunger rack me, let disaster track me,
And anguish hoist me to her highest acme —
Let me bear all thine incidental curses,
Nor share the smallest of thy scanty mercies,
But put me not — oh, put me not in verses!
She grins. She heedeth not advice or warning,
Alike philosophy and triplets scorning.
Adieu, then. Fare thee well. Ta-ta. Good morning.

© James Brunton Stephens