"Mulatto" :: "Quadroon"

Charif Shanahan

I want to ​tell you what for me it has been like.

To speak at all
I must occupy a position

Though the system provides positions
I do not clearly occupy.

Though some say such non-­position is
My position—

Speak from that placeless place outside the system etc
Some would say and have said—

If the placeless place is created by terms
Of the system then it must be
Within the system    even if it appears

Otherwise. And so

It may be that the position which is
Presumed to be of body

Might better be regarded as
A position of thought or

A receptivity to possible experience ​
As conceived by the still
Implausible eye

Of a man who defined
The flimsy self he carried

Against those whom he did not
Understand or know or in any real sense


And if the possible vision
Of that implausible eye

Accounted for you
In name only

Then filed you under
Consequence—Side effect

It is not that the system fails
To position you

It positions you actively
And specifically nowhere

So that you appear on the outside
But remain within

Or you appear within
But remain on the outside

Which is to say in other words

A part and apart

And so

If to speak in a particular social world I must

Occupy a position and that social world consists

Of positions that are clear but none

Of which clearly I occupy

Then it may be that I cannot        even if I want to

Tell you what for me it has been like
                                                                              And so

Cover image: "Leaning" by Mónica Leitão Mota / Adapted version licensed via Creative Commons.

Charif Shanahan is the author of Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing, recipient of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. He teaches poetry in the undergraduate and Litowitz MFA+MA programs at Northwestern University.
Originally published:
May 19, 2021



Finding company on and off the page
Carl Phillips


Emily Ogden and Dana Spiotta

Reckoning with middle age and complicity
Emily Ogden
Dana Spiotta

The Stakes of Dictee

An introduction to a famously difficult work
Ken Chen

You Might Also Like

Reclaiming Tituba

The real story behind Arthur Miller's character
Winsome Pinnock


Black Hauntology: An Introduction

The ghosts that endure
Phillip B. Williams


Raising the Dead

Three writers on engaging and honoring their ghosts
Aricka Foreman,
Krista Franklin,
avery r. young


Help keep print culture alive. For a limited time, enjoy 10% off two- and three-year subscriptions.