Lightskinned Id / christian campbell

for Neruda, for The South

It so happens my id is red.
Check the clues— my lightskinned
parts: underneath my underwear,
if you pull the skin taut; on the white
hand side and down my wrist
where the veins branch out
like green pipes; my foot-bottom
and almost my eyes up close. It used
to be my whole self, until I was
six for sure. But a brownness
took over. Started swimming
at nine, how sun and chlorine
kissed the night into my skin.
There was no turning back.

But my id is good
and redboned. Like slicing open
a pear for the surprise
of its flesh. Look hard:
there’s a murmur of bronze
in my skin. I’m a peanut-butter oreo,
an apple dipped in molasses;
I’m a broad dish of crème brûlée.
O the chiaroscuro of my self.

Still not freed from Freud, I’m fried
on the outside. What a brown on me!
Since the color beneath my color
is curried. It wants to come out,
my high yellow id. Always on the verge
of beige. It wants me to Ambi my skin,
to blossom peach all over. My id has such
a need. Here it goes with its libido of gold,
clashing with the ego, my I, a browner negro,
and the superego, who’s a radiant absence
of white. He thinks he’s in charge.

It makes me act like I’m
better than people, my id. It wants
what it wants. It makes me lick
melted margarine and steal copper
coins from bums. Makes me
bathe in mango juice. Pour sour
milk down my ears and sign
checks in blood to prove it.
On the forms I fill in
Other and scribble Yellow
on the inside in red ink.
I suck the nectar beneath my skin.

My id’s pretty niggerish
(for a mulatto). My id is everyone’s
Indian uncle. It’s taking me
to Hollywood on an undersong
of cream. My id is colourstruck
with itself. My id is El DeBarge.
My id; its job is to keep it light.
How my id misses the eighties.

If only this amber
at heart were enough.

I have to praise it. I have to lull it
with new roses. Run my fingers
along this sallow river
of desire. Stuck in the plantation
kitchen, black ants dying
in an orgy of honey.


“Lightskinned Id” was previously published in MiPoesias.

All poems are published in Running the Dusk (Peepal Tree, 2010)


Christian Campbell is the author of Running the Dusk, which was a finalist for the Cave Canem Prize and is currently shortlisted for the 2010 Forward Poetry Prize for the Best First Book in the UK, and a recipient of a Lannan Residency Fellowship. He teaches at the University of Toronto.


  1. wow, fabulous, love this very much, strikes a chord in me, love the humor, “my id is el debarge”, love the last metaphor, “black ants dying in an orgy of honey.” fantastico!

  2. This is my very favourite poem since tongues of the ocean came on line. so very evocative of so many issues – from the personal to the gloabl – it is sincere to the bone, deeply metaphorical, visual, redefining or super-defining the Caribbean soul, makes me proud to be who I am, who we are. Beautiful!

  3. very well written! Lynn Sweeting has quoted 2 of my favorite lines but the entire piece is rich and full.

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