Marcus Bruce Christian: “I am New Orleans” and “The Masquerader”

Marcus Bruce Christian as a boy_probably around 1912

Marcus Bruce Christian as a boy_probably around 1912

Marcus Bruce Christian in the 1960s

Marcus Bruce Christian in the 1960s

Marcus Bruce Christian
(1900 – 1976, Louisiana poet, historian and folklorist)
. . .
I am New Orleans: A Poem (excerpts)
.
I have known
Many people –
Many voices –
Many languages.
I have heard the soft cries of the African,
Jargoning an European tongue:
Belles des figures!
Bon petit calas! Tout chauds, chère, tout chauds!
Pralines – pistaches! Pralines – pecanes!
“Ah got duh nice yahlah bananas, lady!”
“Bla-a-a-a-a-ack ber-r-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-z!”
“Peenotsa! Peenotsa! Cuma gitta fromee!”
.
“Ah wanna qua’tee red beans,
Ena qua’tee rice,
Ena piece uh salt meat –
Tuh makkit tas’e nice:
En hurry up, Mr. Groceryman,
En put dat lan-yap in mah han’!”
.
“Papa Bonnibee, beat dem hot licks out! –
Ah sed, Poppa Stoppa, let dat jazz cum out!
En efyuh donh feet it,
‘Tain’t no use tellin’ yuh
Jess what it’s all about!
Now, gimme sum High Cs on dat horn ‘n’ let dem
Saints go marching in!”
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans…
Take it away, Mister Charlie!”
. . .
I am New Orleans,
A perpetual Mardi Gras
Of wild Indians, clowns, lords and ladies,
Bourbon Street Jezebels, Baby Dolls, and Fat Cats;
Peanut-vendors, flower-sellers, organ-grinders,
chimney-sweepers, and fortune-tellers.
And then, at the end, bone-rattling skeletons
and flying ghosts.
I am New Orleans –
A city that is a part of, and yet apart from all,
America;
A collection of contradictory environments;
A conglomeration of bloods and races and classes
and colours;
Side-by-side, the New tickling the ribs of the Old;
Cheek-by-jowl, the Ludicrous making faces at the Sublime.

. . .

The Masquerader
.

Here, as a guest esteemed,
I do not hide;
None would dare laugh at me –
None dare deride.
.
For I am white now –
Far whiter than you;
How did I get that way?
Ah! if you knew!
.
You have been very nice!
Took me to tea,
Took me to dinners –
And made love to me.
.
You have been very kind –
Begged for a date –
Me — in whose veins there flows
Blood that you hate.
.
I, who am cherished
And part of your joy –
I am more alien than
Those you employ.
.
You say I am a dream?
Dreams do not last.
When I am lost to you,
Whisper, “She passed.”

. . .

Resolution
.

I shall take your image

From out of my heart

And sweep your tracks

From its floor,

Forgetting

Dead yesterdays

And you.

Step by step,

As you walk away,

I go behind you

Sweeping . . .

Sweeping . . .

. . .
Inconvenient Love
.

Love is an inconvenient thing –
Out of nowhere it slips,
And grows into something that saves or slays,
Or something that binds or grips;
And it sets a seal upon one’s lips.
.
Love has its own peculiar way –
Knowing its own blind art;
Bending strong souls like reeds to the wind,
And then – when it does depart –
Stamping in frantic and frenzied pain
A signet upon one’s heart.
. . .

Bachelor’s Apartment
.

The curtains from Daphne,
The curtains from Chloe;
The doilies from Helen;
The pillows from Flo;
The towels from Myrtle,
The teapot from Rose;
The book-ends from Marion –
Anything goes!
.
The comb-set from Muriel,
The lampshade from Delia;
The picture from Mabel,
The vases from Celia;
From Bertha – the candlesticks;
.
Those women left things
In my heart and my home!
. . .
The Craftsman
.
I ply with all the cunning of my art
This little thing, and with consummate care
I fashion it—so that when I depart,
Those who come after me shall find it fair
And beautiful. It must be free of flaws—
Pointing no labourings of weary hands;
And there must be no flouting of the laws
Of beauty—as the artist understands.
.
Through passion, yearnings infinite—yet dumb—
I lift you from the depths of my own mind
And gild you with my soul’s white heat to plumb
The souls of future men. I leave behind
This thing that in return this solace gives:
“He who creates true beauty ever lives.”

. . .
After the Years…
.

After the years have carted away

The grief and the shame;

After the years have carted away

The crime and the lust;

After the years have carted away

The faith and the trust:

After the years have carted them all

I claim

–The humblest claim–

Oblivion in the dust.

. . .
The Dreamer
(for Arturo Toscanini)
.

I am the dreamer – one whose dream
Is a diaphanous strange thing;
I top the crags, I bridge the stream,
I make the dead page glow and sing.
.
I plumb the depths, I count the stars,
I strain the sinews of my soul
To break through earth’s material bars
And seek perfection at its goal.
.
For I he who never halts –
I never say, “This task is done.”
I climb through subterranean vaults
To tilt my lance against the sun.
.
I am the essence of all art –
Javelins of gold from darkness hurled
Into the light – I break my heart
To set my dream against the world.

. . .
Source for the above poems:
I Am New Orleans & Other Poems By Marcus B. Christian, edited by Rudolph Lewis & Amin Sharif
. . .

ZP Editor’s note:

Tuesday, February 9th (Mardi Gras, 2016):

Wishing to feature Black History Month poems for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we chanced upon a poet too little known: Marcus Bruce Christian. Themes of love and loss, love across “the colour line”, labour and economic struggle, and the spirit of place (I am New Orleans: A Poem) run throughout Christian’s close to 2000 poems. Our Special Thanks to editor Rudolph Lewis of Chicken Bones: A Journal, for introducing us to this fine poet from the past!

. . . . .


Langston Hughes: poemas del poemario “Montaje de un Sueño Diferido” (1951)

1951 book cover for Montage of a Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

Una selección de poemas del poemario Montage of a Dream Deferred (Montaje de un Sueño Diferido) (1951) por Langston Hughes (nacido 1 de febrero de 1902 / muerto 22 de mayo de 1967).  Versiones españoles (enero de 2016): Alexander Best

. . .
Necesidad
.
¿El trabajo?
Yo, no tengo que trabajar.
No tengo que hacer nada
sino
comer, beber, permanecer negro – y morir.
Este viejo cuartito amueblado es
tan pequeño que
aun no puedo azotar un gato sin pillar el pelaje en mi boca.
Y la casera es tan anciana que sus rasgos desdibujan juntos;
¡y sabe el Señor que ella puede cobrarme de más a mí – eso es seguro!
(Entonces…éso es el motivo por que estimo que debo trabajar – después de todo.)

. . .
“Necessity”
.
Work?
I don’t have to work.
I don’t have to do nothing
but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
This little old furnished room’s
so small I can’t whip a cat
without getting fur in my mouth
and my landlady’s so old
her features is all run together
and God knows she sure can overcharge –
which is why I reckon I does
have to work after all.
. . .

Pregunta número 2
.
Dijo la señora:
¿Puedes hacer lo que no puede hacer
mi otro hombre – ? Y éso es:
¡Quiéreme, papi,
y aliméntame también!
.
Figurita
.
¡Be-bop!
. . .
“Question (2)”
.
Said the lady, Can you do
what my other man can’t do –
that is
love me, daddy –
and feed me, too?
.
Figurine
.
De-dop!

. . .
‘Bugui’ despreocupado
.
Abajo en el contrabajo
caminando andando
al firme tiempo
– como pies marchandos.
.
Abajo en el contrabajo
menearse fácil
– el revolcón como me gusta en mi alma.
.
< Riffs, manchas, descansos.>
.
¡Eh, mamacita! – ¿has oído lo que digo?
Despreocupado, yo lo impulso – ¡en mi cama!
. . .
“Easy Boogie”
.
Down in the bass
That steady beat
Walking walking walking
Like marching feet.
.
Down in the bass
That easy roll,
Rolling like I like it
In my soul.
.
Riffs, smears, breaks.
.
Hey, Lawdy, Mama!
Do you hear what I said?
Easy like I rock it
In my bed!
. . .
Las 3 de la mañana en el café…
.
Agentes de policía de la vicebrigada,
con ojos agotados y sádicos – divisando a los maricones.
Degenerados, dice alguna gente.
.
Pero Dios – o la Naturaleza – o alguien – les hizo en esa forma.
¿Una policía – o una Lesbiana – allá?
¿Dónde?

. . .
“Café: 3 a.m.”
.
Detectives from the vice squad
with weary sadistic eyes
spotting fairies.
Degenerates,
some folks say.
.
But God, Nature,
or somebody
made them that way.
Police lady or Lesbian
over there?
Where?
. . .

Calle número 125 (en Harlem)
.
Rostro como una barra de chocolate,
lleno de nueces – y dulce.
.
Cara como una calabaza de Hallowe’en,
y adentro una candela.
.
Rostro como una loncha de sandía
– y una sonrisa tan amplia.

. . .
“125th Street”
.
Face like a chocolate bar
full of nuts and sweet.
.
Face like a jack-o’-lantern,
candle inside.
.
Face like a slice of melon,
grin that wide.

. . .
Los blues en el alba
.
No oso empezar con algunos pensamientos
en las primeras horas del día
– no, no oso pensar en ese momento.
Si yo piense algo de pensamiento mientras estoy en cama,
esos pensamientos romperían mi cabeza
– pues, las mañanas: no oso empezar a pensar.
.
No oso recordar en el alba, no – nunca en el alba.
Porque, si yo evocara el día antes,
no me levantaría nunca más
– pues, las mañanas: no oso recordar.

. . .

“Blues at Dawn”
.
I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.
I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.
If I thought thoughts in bed,
Them thoughts would bust my head –
So I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.
.
I don’t dare remember in the morning
Don’t dare remember in the morning.
If I recall the day before,
I wouldn’t get up no more –
So I don’t dare remember in the morning.

. . .
El vecino
.
En el sur él se colocaba él mismo en la escalera de entrada – y miraba el sol pasando…
Aquí en Harlem, cuando está completo su trabajo – él se coloca en un bar con una cerveza.
Parece más alto que es, y más jóven que no es.
Parece su piel más oscura que es, también – y él es más listo que muestra su rostro.
No es listo, ese vato es un bufón tonto.
Aw, no es eso tampoco – es un buen tipo, salvo que platica demasiado.
A decir verdad es un cuate estupendo – pero cuando toma el vaso, bebe rápido.
A veces no bebe.
Es cierto, sólo deja estar allí su vaso – nada más.

. . .
“Neighbour”
.
Down home
he sets on a stoop
and watches the sun go by.
In Harlem
when his work is done
he sets in a bar with a beer.
He looks taller than he is
and younger than he ain’t.
He looks darker than he is, too.
And he’s smarter than he looks –
He ain’t smart.
That cat’s a fool.
Naw, he ain’t neither.
He’s a good man,
except that he talks too much.
In fact, he’s a great cat.
But when he drinks,
he drinks fast.
Sometimes
he don’t drink.
True,
he just
lets his glass
set there.
. . .
La hora punta en el metropolitano
.
Mezclados,
nuestro aliento, nuestro olor.
Tan cerca – nosotros, negros y blancos;
ningún espacio para el temor.
. . .
“Subway Rush Hour”
.
Mingled
breath and smell
so close
mingled
black and white
so near
no room for fear.

. . .

Hermanos
.
Somos parientes – tú y yo;
tú del Caribe,
yo de Kentucky.
.
Familiar – tú y yo;
tú de África,
yo de los EE.UU.
.
Hermanos somos – tú y yo.
. . .
“Brothers”
.
We’re related – you and I,
You from the West Indies,
I from Kentucky.
.
Kinsmen – you and I,
You from Africa,
I from U.S.A.
.
Brothers – you and I.

. . .

Astilla
.
Rimas pequeñas corrientes
y una tonadilla ordinária
pueden ser casi peligrosas
como una astilla de la luna.
Una tonadilla ordinária
con unas pequeñas rimas corrientes
pueden ser navaja – a veces –
a la garganta de un hombre.
. . .

“Sliver”
.
Cheap little rhymes
A cheap little tune
Are sometimes as dangerous
As a sliver of the moon.
A cheap little tune
To cheap little rhymes
Can cut a man’s
Throat sometimes.
. . .
Consejo
.
Mi gente, les digo a ustedes:
el Nacimiento es duro
y la Muerte es miserable – así que
agarren ustedes mismos algo de Amor
entre aquellos dos.

. . .
“Advice”
.

Folks, I’m telling you:
Birthing is hard
And Dying is mean,
So get yourself
Some loving in between.
. . .
Lema
.
Lo juego muy tranquilo esta vida – y me gusta toda la jerga.
Es la razón que aún estoy vivo.
.
Mi lema,
como estoy viviendo, descubriendo, es:
dar amor-tomar amor y
vivir-y-dejar-vivir.
. . .
“Motto”
.
I play it cool
And dig all jive.
That’s the reason
I stay alive.
.
My motto,
As I live and learn,
Is:
Dig And Be Dug
In Return.

. . .

No hemos incluido los dos poemas más famosos del poemario Montaje de un Sueño Diferido: Tarea para el segundo curso de inglés (“Theme for English B”) y “Harlem (2)”, más conocido por una frase extraída de su primera línea:  Un Sueño Diferido (A Dream Deferred).

.

https://zocalopoets.com/2013/02/01/langston-hughes-tarea-para-el-segundo-curso-de-ingles-theme-for-english-b-translated-into-spanish-by-oscar-paul-castro/

.

https://zocalopoets.com/2011/09/26/un-sueno-diferido-langston-hughes/

. . . . .


Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun!

ZP_Zora Neale Hurston lived to the beat of her own drum.

.

Jump at the sun.” That’s what Zora Neale Hurston’s mother encouraged her to do – and Zora did.

Born in 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama, to a preacher-tenant farmer-carpenter father and a schoolteacher mother, Hurston was raised in the little all-black town of Eatonville, Florida. And from there she jumped very far indeed, becoming one of the main female forces of The Harlem Renaissance (known at the time as The New Negro Movement).

.

But first it was Howard University in Washington, D.C., where Hurston enrolled in 1918 and earned an associate’s degree. Moving to Manhattan on a scholarship, she was the only black student at Barnard College, Columbia University. Margaret Mead was a classmate, and Franz Boas one of her professors; Hurston earned a B.A. in Anthropology in 1928 at the age of 37. Yet her literary involvements had already begun; a short story, Spunk, appeared in Alain Locke’s 1925 anthology The New Negro, and she was among the contributors to the famous one-issue Fire! of 1926.

.

A complex character, not a “team player” for upliftment of The Race – as W.E.B. DuBois might have insisted a writer be – Hurston went her own way and explored Black culture via anthropological folkloric studies of the U.S., Jamaica and Haiti (Mules and Men, Tell my Horse) and through her own unvarnished novels of Black-American life, including Their Eyes Were Watching God, her 1937 dialect-rich tale of the trials and tribulations of Janie Crawford (Eatonville and Hurston’s own third marriage were inspirations).  Hurston’s earlier works had been criticized by Sterling Brown as inadequate because they were not in the “protest tradition” and not bitter enough;  Alain Locke reviewed Their Eyes and called Hurston’s characters “pseudo-primitives”;  and the most damning statement of all came from Richard Wright, who wrote that Their Eyes carries “no theme, no message, no thought.”  Yet the book was a best-seller for its time, then went immediately out of print come War-time.

In 1940 Hurston was traveling the lecture circuit, with several books, essays and field studies to her credit, but by the time she died, in 1960, living hand to mouth near Fort Pierce, Florida, she was pretty much gone and forgotten. It wasn’t until Robert Hemenway’s 1977 biography appeared – and, movingly, a young Alice Walker in 1973 seeking out Hurston’s unmarked grave and “naming” it – that Zora Neale Hurston began to be re-assessed and appreciated more fully.

.

“Pretty much gone and forgotten?”

Well…Hurston became persona non grata after a 1948 scandal in which she was accused of meeting regularly with a boy in a basement for sex. The charges were based on malicious rumour – there were people who were suspicious of her free spirit – perhaps its proto-feminism?  She was visiting Honduras doing a field study during the dates mentioned and so was declared innocent – but the bad rep, the taint, from allegations of child molestation – even though she was cleared – clung, broadcast as they were by the newspapers of the day. This “event” in Hurston’s life broke her essential joie de vivre; she never showed the same spark after this betrayal of her integrity.

.

Another important personal “event” – though this one she controlled and was not the victim of – was that after The Supreme Court’s historic 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education (that separate public schools for Blacks are “inherently unequal” – not “separate but equal”), Hurston came out plainly and publicly on the wrong side of history when she stated: “This whole matter revolves around the self-respect of my people. How much satisfaction can I get from a court order? For somebody to associate with me who does not wish me near them. If there are adequate Negro schools and prepared instructors and instructions, then there’s nothing different except the presence of White people. For this reason, I regard the ruling of the United States Supreme Court as insulting rather than honouring my Race.” How to lose friends and influence people…Yet Hurston was both wrong and right in what she said – there are many truthful angles to be viewed and she had the guts to speak her mind – then pay the price.

.

Alice Walker and Robert Hemenway began the journey back from oblivion for Zora Neale Hurston – a figure in Black-American letters and scholarship who could not be intellectually “boxed in” – she was too busy jumping at the sun.

And January 25th 2014 is the opening day of the 25th anniversary of the week-long Zora! Fest held in Eatonville, Florida. Her hometown community has re-claimed their famous – infamous? – wild individualist of a daughter as one of their own again in naming their yearly arts, music and culture festival after her.

ZP_Zora Neale Hurston.

Excerpt from chapter 1 of Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.

What she doin’ comin’ back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on? Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in? Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? What dat ole forty year ole woman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal? Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid? Thought she was goin’ to marry! Where he left her? What he done wid all her money? Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs – why she don’t stay in her class?!”


When she got to where they were she turned her face on the bander log and spoke. They scrambled a noisy “Good evenin’ ” and left their mouths setting open and their ears full of hope. Her speech was pleasant enough, but she kept walking straight on to her gate. The porch couldn’t talk for looking.

The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grapefruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.

But nobody moved, nobody spoke, nobody even thought to swallow spit until after her gate slammed behind her.”

.

Two of Hurston’s most famous quotations:

I am not tragically coloured. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to that sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that Nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

Zora Neale Hurston

.

Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

Zora Neale Hurston

.     .     .     .     .


George Elliott Clarke: “El Blues para X” / “Blues for X”

ZP_painting by William Henry Johnson, 1901 - 1970_Café_1940

ZP_painting by William Henry Johnson, 1901 – 1970_Café_1940

George Elliott Clarke (born 1960)

Blues for X”

.

Pretty boy, towel your tears,

And robe yourself in black.

Pretty boy, dry your tears,

You know I’m comin’ back.

I’m your slavish lover

And I’m slavish in the sack.

.

Call me:  Sweet Potato,

Sweet Pea, or Sweety Pie,

There’s sugar on my lips

And honey in my thighs.

Jos’phine Baker bakes beans,

But I stew pigtails in rye.

.

My bones are guitar strings

And blues the chords you strum.

My bones are slender flutes

And blues the bars you hum.

You wanna stay my man ? –

Serve me whisky when I come !

.     .     .

George Elliott Clarke (nace 1960)

El Blues para X”

.

Lindo chico, enjúgate las lágrimas,

Y vístete de negro.

Chico chicho – que no llores,

Volveré – tú sabes.

Soy tu amante-esclava

Y soy servil en la cama.

.

Llámame:  “mi camote”,

chícharo’zuc’rado” o “pastelito dulce”,

Hay azucar en mis labios

Y miel en mis muslos.

Jos’phine “Panadero” Baker cuece frijoles

Pero yo guiso colas-de-chancho en güisqui.

.

Son cuerdas de guitarra mis huesos

Y los acordes que rasgueas El Blues.

Los huesos son flautas esbeltas

Y El Blues – el compás que tarareas.

¿Quieres permanecer mi hombre?

!Sírveme güisqui cuándo me vengo!

.     .     .

George Elliott Clarke, el poeta laureado actual de la ciudad de Toronto, nació en este día, el 12 de febrero de 1960.  Los temas de su poesía son los hechos y la mitología de su provincia natal – Nova Scotia, Canadá.   Con la provincia al lado – New Brunswick – las dos forman lo que Señor Clarke dice como “Africadia” – la palabra África (de unos esclavos fugados de los Estados Unidos) + la palabra Acadia (la misma región canadiense en su época francesa, antes de la llegada de los británicos).

Señor Clarke es Profesor de la literatura canadiense y de la diáspora africana en la Universidad de Toronto.

El poema “El Blues para X” (1990) fue escrito en la voz de una mujer que está confiada en su sexualidad y honesta en sus deseos.  El estilo del poema es, quizás, de “nuevo-Blues”.   Mezcla algo de la habla clara de Langston Hughes con las palabras francas de Bessie Smith.

.     .     .

The City of Toronto’s current Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke (born February 12th, 1960, in Windsor Plains, Nova Scotia), has mythologized Black-Canadian history in what he calls Africadia – Africa + Acadia – the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as lived by Black people for more than two centuries.  Clarke received the Governor General’s Award in 2001 for his Execution Poems, based on the lives – and deaths – of two of his relatives, George and Rufus Hamilton.  He wrote a libretto for his own play, Beatrice Chancy, and with a score by James Rolfe the opera premiered in Toronto in 1998 with Fredericton-born Measha Brueggergosman in the title role.  Since 1999 Professor Clarke has taught Canadian and African Diasporic Literature at the University of Toronto.  The poem “Blues for X” – from his 1990 poetry collection Whylah Fallsmight be deemed a neo-Blues poem – harkening back to the plain-spoken Blues poems of Langston Hughes, but with a wake-up shot à la Bessie Smith (the last two verses).

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Traducción en español  /  Translation into Spanish:     Alexander Best,  Lidia García Garay

“Blues for X”  ©  George Elliott Clarke


“They now gonna make us shut up”: The Black Nationalist / Third-World Socialist poetry of Amiri Baraka

ZP_photograph by Fundi_Billy Abernathy_from the 1970 Imamu Amiri Baraka book In Our Terribleness_I love you black perfect woman. Your spirit will rule the twenty first century. This is why we ourselves speed to grace...

ZP_photograph by Fundi_Billy Abernathy_from the 1970 Imamu Amiri Baraka book In Our Terribleness_I love you black perfect woman. Your spirit will rule the twenty first century. This is why we ourselves speed to grace…

Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones, 1934)

“Numbers, Letters” (written in 1965)

.

If you’re not home, where

are you?  Where’d you go?  What

were you doing when gone?  When

you come back, better make it good.

What was you doing down there, freakin’ off

with white women, hangin’ out

with Queens, say it straight to be

understood straight, put it flat and real

in the street where the sun comes and the

moon comes and the cold wind in winter

waters your eyes.  Say what you mean, dig

it out put it down, and be strong

about it.

.

I cant say who I am

unless you agree I’m real

.

I cant be anything I’m not

except these words pretend

to life not yet explained,

so here’s some feeling for you

see how you like it, what it

reveals, and that’s Me.

.

Unless you agree I’m real

that I can feel

whatever beats hardest

a our black souls

I am real, and I can’t say who

I am.  Ask me if I know, I’ll say

yes, I might say no.  Still, ask.

I’m Everett LeRoi Jones, 30 yrs old.

.

A black nigger in the universe.  A long breath singer,

wouldbe dancer, strong from years of fantasy

and study.  All this time then, for what’s happening

now.  All that spilling of white ether, clocks in ghostheads

lips drying and rewet, eyes opening and shut, mouths churning.

.

I am a meditative man, And when I say something it’s all of me

saying, and all the things that make me, have formed me, coloured me

this brilliant reddish night.  I will say nothing that I feel is

lie, or unproven by the same ghostclocks, by the same riders

Always move so fast with the word slung over their backs or

in saddlebags, charging down Chinese roads.  I carry some words,

some feeling, some life in me.  My heart is large as my mind

this is a messenger calling, over here, over here, open your eyes

and your ears and your souls;  today is the history we must learn

to desire.  There is no guilt in love.

 

.

(from “Black Magic”, published 1969)

 

.     .     .

 

“Black Art”

.

Poems are bullshit unless they are

teeth or trees or lemons piled

on a step.  Or black ladies dying

of men leaving nickel hearts

beating them down.  Fuck poems

and they are useful, wd they shoot

come at you, love what you are,

breathe like wrestlers, or shudder

strangely after pissing.  We want live

words of the hips world live flesh &

coursing blood.  Hearts Brains

Souls splintering fire.  We want poems

like fists beating niggers out of Jocks

or dagger poems in the slimy bellies

of the owner-jews.  Black poems to

smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches

whose brains are red jelly stuck

between  ’lizabeth taylor’s toes.  Stinking

Whores!  We want “poems that kill”.

Assassin poems, Poems that shoot

guns.  Poems that wrestle cops into alleys

and take their weapons leaving them dead

with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland.  Knockoff

poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite

politicians Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh

…rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…Setting fire and death to

whities ass.  Look at the Liberal

Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat

& puke himself into eternity…rrrrrrr

There’s a negroleader pinned to

a bar stool in Sardi’s eyeballs melting

in hot flame Another negroleader

on the steps of the white house one

kneeling between the sheriff’s thighs

negotiating cooly for his people.

Agggh … stumbles across the room …

Put it on him, poem.  Strip him naked

to the world!  Another bad poem cracking

steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth

Poem scream poison gas on beasts in green berets

Clean out the world for virtue and love,

Let there be no love poems written

until love can exist freely and

cleanly.  Let Black People understand

that they are the lovers and the sons

of lovers and warriors and sons

of warriors Are poems & poets &

all the loveliness here in the world

.

We want a black poem. And a

Black World.

Let the world be a Black Poem

And Let All Black People Speak This Poem

silently

Or LOUD

.

(from “Black Magic”, published 1969)

ZP_from page 1 of In Our Terribleness_Some elements and meaning in black style_by Imamu Amiri Baraka_with Fundi_1970

ZP_from page 1 of In Our Terribleness_Some elements and meaning in black style_by Imamu Amiri Baraka_with Fundi_1970

 

“J. said, “Our whole universe is generated by a rhythm””

.

Is Dualism, the shadow inserted

for the northern trip, as the northern

trip, minstrels of the farther land,

the sun, in one place, ourselves, somewhere

else.  The Universe

is the rhythm

there is no on looker, no outside

no other than the real, the universe

is rhythm, and whatever is only is as

swinging.  All that is is funky, the bubbles

in the monsters brain, are hitting it too,

but the circles look like

swastikas, the square is thus

explained, but the nazis had dances, and even some of the

victims would tell you that.

.

There is no such thing as “our

universe”, only degrees of the swinging, what

does not swing is nothing, and nothing swings

when it wants to.  The desire alone is funky

and it is this heat Louis Armstrong scatted in.

.

What is not funky is psychological, metaphysical

is the religion of squares, pretending no one

is anywhere.

Everything gets hot, it is hot now, nothing cold exists

and cold, is the theoretical line the pretended boundary

where your eye and your hand disappear into desire.

.

Dualism is a quiet camp near the outer edge of the forest.

There the inmates worship money and violence. they are

learning right now to sing, let us join them for a moment

and listen.  Do not laugh, whatever you do.

 

.

(from “Funk Lore” – New Poems, 1984-1995)

 

.     .     .

 

“Brother Okot”

.

Our people say

death lives

in the West

(Any one

can see

plainly, each evening

where the sun

goes to die)

.

So Okot

is now in the West

.

Here w/ us

in hell

.

I have heard

his songs

felt the earth

drum his

dance

his wide ness

& Sky self

.

Ocoli Singer

Ocoli Fighter

.

Brother Okot

now here w/ us

in the place

.

Where even the Sun

dies.

.

Editor’s note:

Okot p’Bitek (1931-1982) was a Ugandan poet, author of the epic poem “Song of Lawino”,

written in the Acholi language.  (Acholi = Ocoli).

One of Okot p’Bitek’s daughters, Juliane Okot Bitek, is a poet whose work was featured by

Zócalo Poets in February 2012.

 

.     .     .

 

“Syncretism”

.

BAD NEWS SAY

KILL

DRUM

But Drum

no

die

just

act      slick

drum turn

mouth

tongue

drum go voice

be hand

on over

hauls

dont die

how some ever

drum turn slick

never

no drum

never

never

die

be a piano

a fiddle

a nigger tap

fellah

drum’ll

yodel

if it need to

Thing say Kill drum

but drum

dont die/dont even

disappear

& drum cant die

& wdn’t

no way!

.

(from “Funk Lore” – New Poems, 1984-1995)

 

.     .     .

 

“Bad People”

.

We want to be happy

neglecting

to check

the definition

.

We want to love

& be loved

but

What does that

mean?

.

Then you, backed up against

yr real life

.

claim you want

only

to  be correct.

.

Imagine the jeers,

the cat calls

the universal dis

.

such ignorance

justifiably

creates.

.

(from “Funk Lore” – New Poems, 1984-1995)

 

.     .     .     .     .

ZP Editor’s note:

“They now gonna make us shut up” is the opening line of Baraka’s 1969 poem “The People Burning”.

.

Editor Paul Vangelisti wrote in a 1995 foreword to an Amiri Baraka anthology that the poet “remains difficult to approach” – that is, for readers trying to place his ‘opus’ – since the U.S. literary establishment is “positioned somewhere between Anglo-American academicism and the Entertainment industry.”  Baraka cannot be fitted neatly anywhere – though he has been compared to Ezra Pound for “making poetry and politics reciprocal forms of action” (M.L. Rosenthal, 1973).

Imamu Amiri Baraka (Arabic for Spiritual Leader-Blesséd-Prince) was born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey, and was one of the “urgent new voices” – black voices – of the 1960s.  Like a number of U.S. cities with Black citizens who were barred from “getting ahead” and who felt fed up with a normalized police brutality, Newark experienced what were then called “race riots”, in July 1967, leaving 26 people dead.  Over the decades Baraka has stuck by his city, continuing to live there through thick and thin.

.

The poet had often signed his poems “Roi”, up until 1966, at which time he took his Muslim name.  After the assassination of Malcolm X Baraka became more forceful in his poetry – promoting a Black Nationalist culture – and trying to give poetic shape to Anger.  But in the 1970s he distanced himself from Black Nationalism, finding in it “certain dead ends theoretically and ideologically”, and he gravitated toward Third-World Liberation movements involving Marxism.

.

Baraka has been brought to task over the years for sexism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia in his writing (from the 1960s especially) – but he was,  in his poetic passion, giving expression to his full self – his ugly thoughts as well as his ideas and yearnings.  In that sense Baraka was ordinary not special – yet he was egocentric enough to want to ‘say it all’.

About the criticisms against the “prejudices” evident in his work he has said:

“The anger was part of the mindset created by, first, the assassination of John Kennedy, followed by the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, followed by the assassination of Malcolm X – amidst the lynching, and national oppression. A few years later, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. What changed my mind was that I became a Marxist, after recognizing classes within the Black community…..”

ZP_Muhammad Ali with Malcolm X in the background_1964 photograph by Robert L. Haggins

ZP_Muhammad Ali with Malcolm X in the background_1964 photograph by Robert L. Haggins

Baraka’s poetry from the 1990s took as its template Blues and Jazz structures and he penned poems that in their own weird ways honoured Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and Sun Ra.  There was also polemic and vitriol, sometimes downright pessimistic, in poems about Clarence Thomas and Spike Lee.  Still “making poetry and politics reciprocal forms of action”, as Rosenthal had described Baraka in the early 1970s, it came as no surprise when the poet wrote an inflammatory poem, “Somebody Blew Up America”, about the September 11th, 2001, World Trade Center attack.

.     .     .     .     .

All poems © Amiri Baraka


Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes: “Throw jesus out yr mind” / “Goodbye, Christ”

ZP_photograph by Fundi_Billy Abernathy_from the 1970 Imamu Amiri Baraka book In Our Terribleness

ZP_photograph by Fundi_Billy Abernathy_from the 1970 Imamu Amiri Baraka book In Our Terribleness

Amiri Baraka (born 1934, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A.)

“When We’ll Worship Jesus”

(written after 1970, published in Baraka’s poetry collection “Hard Facts”, 1975)

.

We’ll worship Jesus

When Jesus do

Something

When jesus blow up

the white house

or blast nixon down

when jesus turn out congress

or bust general motors to

yard bird motors

jesus we’ll worship jesus

when jesus get down

when jesus get out his yellow lincoln

w/the built in cross stain glass

window & box w/black peoples

enemies we’ll worship jesus when

he get bad enough to at least scare

somebody – cops not afraid

of jesus

pushers not afraid

of jesus, capitalists racists

imperialists not afraid

of jesus shit they makin money

off jesus

we’ll worship jesus when mao

do, when toure does

when the cross replaces Nkrumah’s

star

Jesus need to hurt some a our

enemies, then we’ll check him

out, all that screaming and hollering

& wallering and moaning talkin bout

jesus, jesus, in a red

check velvet vine + 8 in.heels

jesus pinky finger

got a goose egg ruby

which actual bleeds

jesus at the Apollo

doin splits and helpin

nixon trick niggers

jesus  w/his one eyed self

tongue kissing johnny carson

up the behind

jesus need to be busted

jesus need to be thrown down and whipped

till something better happen

jesus aint did nothin for us

but kept us turned toward the

sky (him and his boy allah

too, need to be checkd out!)

we’ll worship jesus when he get a boat load of ak-47s

and some dynamite

and blow up abernathy robotin

for gulf

jesus need to be busted

we ain’t gonna worship nobody

but niggers getting up off

the ground

not gon worship jesus

unless he just a tricked up

nigger somebody named

outside his race

need to worship yo self fo

you worship jesus

need to bust jesus ( + check

out his spooky brother

allah while you heavy

on the case

cause we ain gon worship jesus

we aint gon worship

jesus

not till he do something

not till he help us

not till the world get changed

and he ain, jesus ain, he cant change the world

we can change the world

we can struggle against the forces of backwardness, we can

change the world

we can struggle against our selves, our slowness, our connection

with

the oppressor, the very cultural aggression which binds us to

our enemies

as their slaves.

we can change the world

we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus dont exist

xcept in song and story except in ritual and dance, except in

slum stained

tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the

history

of the oppression of the human mind

we worship the strength in us

we worship our selves

we worship the light in us

we worship the warmth in us

we worship the world

we worship the love in us

we worship our selves

we worship nature

We worship ourselves

we worship the life in us, and science, and knowledge, and

transformation

of the visible world

but we aint gonna worship no jesus

we aint gonna legitimize the witches and devils and spooks and

hobgoblins

the sensuous lies of the rulers to keep us chained to fantasy and

illusion

sing about life, not jesus

sing about revolution, not no jesus

stop singing about jesus,

sing about creation, our creation, the life of the world and

fantastic

nature how we struggle to transform it, but dont victimize our

selves by

distorting the world

stop moanin about jesus, stop sweatin and crying and stompin

and dyin for jesus

unless thats the name of the army we building to force the land

finally to

change hands.  And lets not call that jesus, get a quick

consensus, on that,

lets damn sure not call that black fire muscle

no invisible psychic dungeon

no gentle vision strait jacket, lets call that peoples army, or

wapenduzi or

simba

wachanga, but we not gon call it jesus, and not gon worship

jesus, throw

jesus out yr mind.  Build the new world out of reality, and new

vision

we come to find out what there is of the world

to understand what there is here in the world!

to visualize change, and force it.

we worship revolution

 

.     .     .     .     .

 

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

“Goodbye, Christ” (published in “The Negro Worker” Socialist journal, Nov.-Dec. 1932)

.

Listen, Christ,

You did alright in your day, I reckon –

But that day’s gone now.

They ghosted you up a swell story, too,

Called it Bible –

But it’s dead now.

The popes and the preachers’ve

Made too much money from it.

They’ve sold you too many

.

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers –

Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,

Even to Rockefeller’s Church,

Even to “The Saturday Evening Post”.

You ain’t no good no more.

They’ve pawned you

Till you’ve done wore out.

.

Goodbye,

Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,

Beat it on away from here now.

Make way for a new guy with no religion at all –

a real guy named

Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME

I said, ME!

.

Go ahead on now,

You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.

And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,

And Saint Pope Pius,

And Saint Aimee McPherson,

And big black Saint Becton

Of the Consecrated Dime.

And step on the gas, Christ!

Move!

.

Don’t be so slow about movin’!

The world is mine from now on –

And nobody’s gonna sell ME

To a king, or a general,

Or a millionaire.

ZP_Negro Worker_1938 lithograph by James Lescesne Wells

ZP_Negro Worker_1938 lithograph by James Lescesne Wells

Langston Hughes

“A Christian Country” (Feb. 1931)

.

God slumbers in a back alley

With a gin bottle in His hand.

Come on, God, get up and fight

Like a man.

 

.     .     .

 

Langston Hughes

“Tired” (Feb. 1931)

.

I am so tired of waiting,

Aren’t you?

For the world to become good

And beautiful and kind.

Let us take a knife

And cut the world in two –

And see what worms are eating

At the rind.

 

.     .     .

 

Langston Hughes

“Bitter Brew” (1967, published posthumously)

.

Whittle me down

To a strong thin reed

With a piercing tip

To match my need.

.

Spin me out

To a tensile wire

To derrick the stones

Of my problems higher.

.

Then simmer me slow

In the freedom cup

Till only an essence

Is left to sup.

.

May that essence be

The black poison of me

To give the white bellies

The third degree.

.

Concocted by history

Brewed by fate –

A bitter concentrate

Of hate.

.     .     .     .     .

It may seem curious to place Langston Hughes on the same page with Amiri Baraka yet these two strikingly different poets do intersect.  Both wrote passionate and angry poems about Jesus Christ – about belief in Jesus Christ – during periods when each was exploring elements of one of those other great world religions:  Socialism/Communism.

.

Though the life lived by Hughes appears to have been more conservative and/or Bohemian-Establishment than Baraka’s, Hughes’ conventional rhyming verse poetry shows real guts.  The poem “Goodbye, Christ” haunted Hughes, being re-printed and circulated by zealously orthodox American Christians , becoming a thorn that pierced Hughes’ side from 1940 onward when the FBI put the poet under surveillance for alleged Communist activity.  He was denounced as a communist by a U.S. senator in 1948 and was subpoena’d in 1953 to appear before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s subcommittee on subversive “un-American” activities.  It “exonerated” him because it couldn’t link him to anyone juicy to nail.  Though Hughes had been involved in Leftist politics – his “turning” came after a trip to Haiti in 1931 (followed by visits to Moscow in 1932-33 and Spain in 1937) – he was never a member of any Socialist or Communist party organization.

.

We have included what is believed to be one of the last poems Langston Hughes wrote before he died in 1967:  “Bitter Brew”.  In miniature it quick-sketches the emotional and psychological geography for the new-angry Black America that an up-and-coming LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka would map out in greater detail…

.     .     .     .     .


Langston Hughes: “Montage of a Dream Deferred”

February 2013_1

Langston Hughes (born February 1st 1902, died 1967)

“Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951):  a selection of poems

.

“Children’s Rhymes”

.

When I was a chile we used to play,

“One – two – buckle my shoe!”

and things like that.  But now, Lord,

listen at them little varmints!

.

By what sends

the white kids

I ain’t sent:

I know I can’t

be President.

.

There is two thousand children

In this block, I do believe!

.

What don’t bug

them white kids

sure bugs me:

We knows everybody

ain’t free!

.

Some of these young ones is cert’ly bad –

One batted a hard ball right through my window

And my gold fish et the glass.

.

What’s written down

for white folks

ain’t for us a-tall:

“Liberty And Justice –

Huh – For All.”

.

Oop-pop-a-da!

Skee!  Daddle-de-do!

Be-bop!

.

Salt’ peanuts!

.

De-dop!

 

.     .     .

 

“Necessity”

.

Work?

I don’t have to work.

I don’t have to do nothing

but eat, drink, stay black, and die.

This little old furnished room’s

so small I can’t whip a cat

without getting fur in my mouth

and my landlady’s so old

her features is all run together

and God knows she sure can overcharge –

which is why I reckon I does

have to work after all.

 

.     .     .

 

“Question (2)”

.

Said the lady, Can you do

what my other man can’t do –

that is

love me, daddy –

and feed me, too?

.

Figurine

.

De-dop!

 

.     .     .

 

“Easy Boogie”

.

Down in the bass

That steady beat

Walking walking walking

Like marching feet.

.

Down in the bass

That easy roll,

Rolling like I like it

In my soul.

.

Riffs, smears, breaks.

.

Hey, Lawdy, Mama!

Do you hear what I said?

Easy like I rock it

In my bed!

 

.     .     .

 

“What?  So Soon!”

.

I believe my old lady’s

pregnant again!

Fate must have

some kind of trickeration

to populate the

cllud nation!

Comment against Lamp Post

You call it fate?

Figurette

De-daddle-dy!

De-dop!

 

.     .     .

 

“Tomorrow”

.

Tomorrow may be

a thousand years off:

TWO DIMES AND A NICKEL ONLY

Says this particular

cigarette machine.

.

Others take a quarter straight.

.

Some dawns

wait.

 

.     .     .

 

“Café:  3 a.m.”

.

Detectives from the vice squad

with weary sadistic eyes

spotting fairies.

Degenerates,

some folks say.

.

But God, Nature,

or somebody

made them that way.

Police lady or Lesbian

over there?

Where?

.     .     .

 

“125th Street”

.

Face like a chocolate bar

full of nuts and sweet.

.

Face like a jack-o’-lantern,

candle inside.

.

Face like a slice of melon,

grin that wide.

 

.     .     .

 

“Up-Beat”

.

In the gutter

boys who try

might meet girls

on the fly

as out of the gutter

girls who will

may meet boys

copping a thrill

while from the gutter

both can rise:

But it requires

Plenty eyes.

 

February 2013_2

“Mystery”

.

When a chile gets to be thirteen

and ain’t seen Christ yet,

she needs to set on de moaner’s bench

night and day.

.

Jesus, lover of my soul!

.

Hail, Mary, mother of God!

.

Let me to thy bosom fly!

.

Amen!  Hallelujah!

.

Swing low, sweet chariot,

Coming for to carry me home.

.

Sunday morning where the rhythm flows,

How old nobody knows –

yet old as mystery,

older than creed,

basic and wondering

and lost as my need.

.

Eli, eli!

Te deum!

Mahomet!

Christ!

.

Father Bishop, Effendi, Mother Horne,

Father Divine, a Rabbi black

as black was born,

a jack-leg preacher, a Ph.D.

.

The mystery

and the darkness

and the song

and me.

 

.     .     .

 

“Nightmare Boogie”

.

I had a dream

and I could see

a million faces

black as me!

A nightmare dream:

Quicker than light

All them faces

Turned dead white!

Boogie-woogie,

Rolling bass,

Whirling treble

Of cat-gut lace.

 

.     .     .

 

“Blues at Dawn”

.

I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

If I thought thoughts in bed,

Them thoughts would bust my head –

So I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

.

I don’t dare remember in the morning

Don’t dare remember in the morning.

If I recall the day before,

I wouldn’t get up no more –

So I don’t dare remember in the morning.

 

.     .     .

 

“Neighbour”

.

Down home

he sets on a stoop

and watches the sun go by.

In Harlem

when his work is done

he sets in a bar with a beer.

He looks taller than he is

and younger than he ain’t.

He looks darker than he is, too.

And he’s smarter than he looks,

He ain’t smart.

That cat’s a fool.

Naw, he ain’t neither.

He’s a good man,

except that he talks too much.

In fact, he’s a great cat.

But when he drinks,

he drinks fast.

Sometimes

he don’t drink.

True,

he just

lets his glass

set there.

 

.     .     .

 

“Subway Rush Hour”

.

Mingled

breath and smell

so close

mingled

black and white

so near

no room for fear.

 

.     .     .

 

“Brothers”

.

We’re related – you and I,

You from the West Indies,

I from Kentucky.

.

Kinsmen – you and I,

You from Africa,

I from U.S.A.

.

Brothers – you and I.

 

.     .     .

 

“Sliver”

.

Cheap little rhymes

A cheap little tune

Are sometimes as dangerous

As a sliver of the moon.

A cheap little tune

To cheap little rhymes

Can cut a man’s

Throat sometimes.

 

.     .     .

 

“Hope (2)”

.

He rose up on his dying bed

and asked for fish.

His wife looked it up in her dream book

and played it.

 

.     .     .

 

“Harlem (2)”

.

What happens to a dream deferred?

.

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over –

like a syrupy sweet?

.

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

.

Or does it explode?

 

.     .     .

 

“Letter”

.

Dear Mama,

Time I pay rent and get my food

and laundry I don’t have much left

but here is five dollars for you

to show you I still appreciates you.

My girl-friend send her love and say

she hopes to lay eyes on you sometime in life.

Mama, it has been raining cats and dogs up

here.  Well, that is all so I will close.

You son baby

Respectably as ever,

Joe

 

.     .     .

 

“Motto”

.

I play it cool

And dig all jive.

That’s the reason

I stay alive.

.

My motto,

As I live and learn,

Is:

Dig And Be Dug

In Return.

 

 

.     .     .     .     .

From Hughes’ introduction to his 1951 collection “Montage of a Dream Deferred”:

“In terms of current Afro-American popular music and the sources from which it has progressed – jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, boogie-woogie, and be-bop – this poem on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session, sometimes the popular song, punctuated by the riffs, runs, breaks, and distortions of the music of a community in transition.”

 

February 2013_3

 

Editor’s note:

Langston Hughes’ poems “Theme for English B” and “Advice” – both of which were included in his publication of “Montage of a Dream Deferred” – are featured in separate Hughes’ posts on Zócalo Poets.

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“Montage of a Dream Deferred”- from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad, with David Roessel, 1994

All poems © The Estate of Langston Hughes