“Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black, her brows so suited, and they mourners seem... My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red. If snow be white, why then her breasts dun... [...]
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head... [...]
Thy black is fairest in my judgement's place... [...]
Have you anything to say about the sonnets?”
“Is she black?”
“Is who black?”
“The dark lady.”
“No, dear, she's dark. She's not black in the modern sense. There weren't any... well, Afro-Carri-bee-yans in England at that time, dear. That's more a modern phenomenon, as I'm sure you know. But this was the 1600s. I mean I can't be sure, but it does seem terribly unlikely, unless she was a slave of some kind, and he's unlikely to have written a series of sonnets to a lord and then a slave, is he?”
Irie reddened. She had thought, just then, that she had seen something like a reflection, but it was receding; so she said, “Don't know, miss.”
“Besides, he says very clearly, In nothing art thou black, save in thy deeds... No, dear, she has just a dark complexion, you see, as dark as mine, probably.”
Irie looked at Mrs. Roody. She was the color of strawberry mousse.
“You see, Joshua is quite right: the preference was for women to be excessively pale in those days. The sonnet is about the debate between her natural coloring and the makeup that was the fashion of the time.”
“I just thought... like when he says, here: Then will I swear, beauty herself is black... And the curly hair thing, black wires—”
Irie gave up in the face of giggling and shrugged.
“No, dear, you're reading it with a modern ear. Never read what is old with a modern ear. In fact, that will serve as today's principle—can you all write that down, please.”
5F wrote that down. And the reflection that Irie had glimpsed slunk back into the familiar darkness. On the way out of class, Irie was passed a note by Annalese Hersh, who shrugged to signify that she was not the author but merely one of the many handlers. It said: “By William Shakespeare: ODE TO LETITIA AND ALL MY KINKY-HAIRED BIG-ASS BITCHEZ.”