Carole Boston Weatherford
1998 Poetry Chapbook Contest

The Tar Baby on the Soapbox

So Clean and White
-----Sunlight Soap slogan, circa 1900

"Snowy white," the tar baby promised;
her eyelet pinafore immaculate—beaming
on the soapbox, beckoning believers
When no one was looking, she seemed to wink
at the washerwoman. They knew it never snowed
in July. The washerwoman shoveled detergent
like a grave digger, buried under soil
of other people's sweat. Squeezing lemon juice
and rubbing salt into a stain, she snarled
beneath her breath, "Rich folk sure is filthy."
Raw knuckles throbbing contempt. The soapbox
toppled onto the pile of laundry. Then she saw them—

Tiny hands reaching, feet jutting from the box.
Startled, she blinked hard and shivered.
The tar baby kicked wildly, arms
flailing, cries shrill, tantrum full-grown.
The tar baby squealed, mocking the lowly laundress.
The woman scowled, then slammed the ornery chile
against the scrubboard, dunking it in the suds
until the indigo blush left its cheeks. The woman
bled a little. The tar baby wheezed, its tiny neck twisted
chaste; shrouded in damp linens, cradled
in a willow basket, mouthing white lies.

© 1999 Carole Boston Weatherford

Author Biography

Carole Boston Weatherford is the author of a prizewinning poetry chapbook, The Tan Chanteuse, and six children's books, including Sink or Swim: African American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks; Me and the Family Tree; and Juneteenth Jamboree. Among her many honors are a North Carolina Arts Council Writers Fellowship, the North Carolina Poetry Society Caldwell Nixon Award, a North Carolina Press Association Award, and the Furious Flower Poetry Prize. She has taught at High Point University, Salem College and Gulford Technical Community College. She also conducts performances and workshops for educational and cultural institutions. A native of Baltimore, she resides in High Point, North Carolina.

Critical Response

"What a gift, a lift to American Poetry The Tar Baby on the Soapbox is; it is filled with the wisdom of sermons, the inescapable pains of history, richness of specificity and summoning of redemptive moments. Carole Boston Weatherford shapes language, threads imagery and symbol, and extends metaphor. The jazz in this book demonstrates that Weatherford understands phrasing. The Tar Baby on the Soapbox reveals Weatherford's commitment to African American Culture and furthers the literary tradition. The ancestors must be proud."

—Lenard D. Moore

"Carole Boston Weatherford continues her lyrical but unblinking examination of American history and culture in this series of strong new poems. From the sad allegory of the title poem to the bitter humor of 'Many Mansions' to the defiant joy of 'Once, I Cried a River' her voice never falters, never waivers. Admirable in every respect, The Tar Baby on the Soapbox adds bright honor to Weatherford's work."

—Fred Chappell

©2009 Longleaf Press at Methodist University | Fayetteville, NC