Entrée to Black Paris Blog


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


Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Elizabeth Prophet, sculptress and teacher
National Archives and Records Administration