Fenton Johnson

The Scarlet Woman

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Once I was good like the Virgin Mary and the Minister's wife.
My father worked for Mr. Pullman and white people's tips;
but he died two days after his insurance expired.
I had nothing, so I had to go to work.
All the stock I had was a white girl's education
and a face that enchanted the men of both races.
Starvation danced with me.
So, when Big Lizzie,
who kept a house for white men,
came to me with tales of fortune
that I could reap from the sale of my virtue
I bowed my head to Vice.
Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around.
Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.

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