Tuesday, July 17th, 2018
by Sekai Abeni
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet worked throughout her life as a domestic. In the early 1900s in Rhode Island, most Black women were conditioned and raised for a life in domestic work.
After working for years to raise enough money for art school, Prophet successfully attended Rhode Island School of Design. However, she returned to domestic work after college. She worked hard and saved enough money to eventually go to Paris, where she continued her studies and her work was met with critical acclaim.
This poem explores the complicated relationship between and artist and her work - the moments in between the successes. In this piece, I wanted to focus on the difficulties of returning to domestic work and how hard it is to not be able to follow your passion.
fingers slide across tile freshly bleached
grout scrubbed so hard finger blood pools into granite bleached again
cool tile reverberates a pitch only an artist not creating can hear
fingertips find sensuality in pot scrubbing follicles long for stone
you and I pretend we are happy knees bruised back bent feet swollen
there is a place where creation and pain meet in bliss
but not here where you and I don't touch
and I come home from a long day’s work too disappointed too look at you
you smell of another's fingertips and mine have been bleached and burned off
I fear sadness is my true companion and you love me only when I can give
but I am afraid you and I were only meant to be passing lovers
dreams can haunt us until we set them free
and I am not setting you free I am asking you to leave
Elizabeth Prophet, sculptress and teacher
National Archives and Records Administration