Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove by Rita Dove
late, in aqua and ermine, gardeniasscaling her left sleeve in a spasm of scent,her gloves white, her smile chastened, purse giddywith stars and rhinestones clipped to her brilliantined hair, on her free arm that fine Negro,Mr. Wonderful Smith.It’s the day that isn’t, February 29th,at the end of the shortest month of the year—and the shittiest, too, everywhereexcept Hollywood, Californiawhere the maid can wear mink and still be a maid,bobbing her bandaged head and cursingthe white folks under her breath as she smiles and shoos their silly daughtersin from the night dew…what can she bethinking of, striding into the ballroomwhere no black face has ever showed itselfexcept above a serving tray?Hi-Hat Hattie, Mama Mac, Her Haughtiness,The ”little lady” from Showboat whose nameBing forgot, Beulah & Bertha & Malena& Carrie & Violet & Cynthia & Fidelia,one half of the dark Barrymores—dear Mammy, we can’t help but hug you crawl intoyour generous lap tease youwith such arch innuendo so we can feel thatmuch more wicked and youthful and sleek but oh whatwe forgot:  the four husbands, the phantompregnancy, your famous parties, your celebratedice box cake.  Your giggle above the red petticoat’s rustle,black girl and white girl walking hand in hand down the railroad tracksin Kansas city, six years old.The man who advised you, nowthat you were famous to ‘begin eliminating”your more common acquaintancesand your reply (catching him square in the eye):  “That’s a good idea.I’ll start right now by eliminating you.”Is she or isn’t she?  Three million dishes,a truckload of aprons and headrags later, and hereyou are:  poised, between husbandsand factions, no corset wide enoughto hold you in, your huge face a dark moon splitby that spontaneous smile – your trademark,your curse.  Not matter, Hattie:  It’s a long, beautiful walkinto that flower-smothered standing ovation,so go onand make them wait. 
Rita Dove 

Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove by Rita Dove


late, in aqua and ermine, gardenias
scaling her left sleeve in a spasm of scent,
her gloves white, her smile chastened, purse giddy
with stars and rhinestones clipped to her brilliantined hair, 
on her free arm that fine Negro,
Mr. Wonderful Smith.

It’s the day that isn’t, February 29th,
at the end of the shortest month of the year—
and the shittiest, too, everywhere
except Hollywood, California
where the maid can wear mink and still be a maid,
bobbing her bandaged head and cursing
the white folks under her breath as she smiles 
and shoos their silly daughters
in from the night dew…what can she be
thinking of, striding into the ballroom
where no black face has ever showed itself
except above a serving tray?

Hi-Hat Hattie, Mama Mac, Her Haughtiness,
The ”little lady” from Showboat whose name
Bing forgot, Beulah & Bertha & Malena
& Carrie & Violet & Cynthia & Fidelia,
one half of the dark Barrymores—
dear Mammy, we can’t help but hug you crawl into
your generous lap tease you
with such arch innuendo so we can feel that
much more wicked and youthful 
and sleek but oh what

we forgot:  the four husbands, the phantom
pregnancy, your famous parties, your celebrated
ice box cake.  Your giggle above the red petticoat’s rustle,
black girl and white girl walking hand in hand 
down the railroad tracks
in Kansas city, six years old.
The man who advised you, now
that you were famous to ‘begin eliminating”
your more common acquaintances
and your reply (catching him square 
in the eye):  “That’s a good idea.
I’ll start right now by eliminating you.”
Is she or isn’t she?  Three million dishes,
a truckload of aprons and headrags later, and here
you are:  poised, between husbands
and factions, no corset wide enough
to hold you in, your huge face a dark moon split
by that spontaneous smile – your trademark,
your curse.  Not matter, Hattie:  It’s a long, beautiful walk
into that flower-smothered standing ovation,
so go on
and make them wait. 

Rita Dove 

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