Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966) “Black Woman” (1922) . Don’t knock at the door, little child, I cannot let you in, You know not what a world this is Of cruelty and sin. Wait in the still eternity Until I come to you, The world is cruel, cruel, child, I cannot let you in! . Don’t knock at my heart, little one, I cannot bear the pain Of turning deaf-ear to your call Time and time again! You do not know the monster men Inhabiting the earth, Be still, be still, my precious child, I must not give you birth! . . . Georgia Douglas Johnson “Common Dust” .
And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?
The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
The black, the white, the red,
And all the chromatique between,
Of whom shall it be said:
Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies the one unlabelled,
The world at large his home!
Can one then separate the dust?
Will mankind lie apart,
When life has settled back again
The same as from the start?
. . .
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) “La Vie C'est La Vie” (1922) . On summer afternoons I sit Quiescent by you in the park And idly watch the sunbeams gild And tint the ash-trees' bark. . Or else I watch the squirrels frisk And chaffer in the grassy lane; And all the while I mark your voice Breaking with love and pain. . I know a woman who would give Her chance of heaven to take my place; To see the love-light in your eyes, The love-glow on your face! . And there's a man whose lightest word Can set my chilly blood afire; Fulfillment of his least behest Defines my life’s desire. . But he will none of me, nor I Of you. Nor you of her. 'Tis said The world is full of jests like these.— I wish that I were dead. . . .
Jessie Redmon Fauset
“I can remember when I was a little young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan,
and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children;
they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’”
—Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
. I think I see her sitting bowed and black, Stricken and seared with slavery's mortal scars, Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet Still looking at the stars. . Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons, Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom's bars, Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set, Still visioning the stars! . . . Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-1981) “Hatred” (1926) . I shall hate you Like a dart of singing steel Shot through still air At even-tide, Or solemnly As pines are sober When they stand etched Against the sky. Hating you shall be a game Played with cool hands And slim fingers. Your heart will yearn For the lonely splendor Of the pine tree While rekindled fires In my eyes Shall wound you like swift arrows. Memory will lay its hands Upon your breast And you will understand My hatred. . . . Gwendolyn Bennett “Fantasy” (1927) . I sailed in my dreams to the Land of Night Where you were the dusk-eyed queen, And there in the pallor of moon-veiled light The loveliest things were seen ... . A slim-necked peacock sauntered there In a garden of lavender hues, And you were strange with your purple hair As you sat in your amethyst chair With your feet in your hyacinth shoes. . Oh, the moon gave a bluish light Through the trees in the land of dreams and night. I stood behind a bush of yellow-green And whistled a song to the dark-haired queen... . . .
Helene Johnson (1906-1995) was just that much younger than the other women poets,
and a letting-go of the conventions of 19th-century “romantic” verse form and literary style
plus an embracing of colloquial speech and Jazz rhythm is evident in the following poem, “Bottled”, which she wrote at the age of 21.
Upstairs on the third floor
Of the 135th Street Library
In Harlem, I saw a little
Bottle of sand, brown sand,
Just like the kids make pies
Out of down on the beach.
But the label said: “This
Sand was taken from the Sahara desert.”
Imagine that! The Sahara desert!
Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand.
And yesterday on Seventh Avenue
I saw a darky dressed to kill
In yellow gloves and swallowtail coat
And swirling at him. Me too,
At first, till I saw his face
When he stopped to hear a
Organ grinder grind out some jazz.
Boy! You should a seen that darky’s face!
It just shone. Gee, he was happy!
And he began to dance. No
Charleston or Black Bottom for him.
No sir. He danced just as dignified
And slow. No, not slow either.
Dignified and proud! You couldn’t
Call it slow, not with all the
Cuttin’ up he did. You would a died to see him.
The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear,
Just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’ that cane
And yellin’ out loud every once in a while.
I know the crowd thought he was coo-coo.
But say, I was where I could see his face,
And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle,
A real honest-to cripe jungle, and he wouldn’t leave on them
Trick clothes-those yaller shoes and yaller gloves
And swallowtail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing.
And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane.
He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point
Like the bayonets we had “over there.”
And the end of it would be dipped in some kind of
Hoo-doo poison. And he’d be dancin’ black and naked and
And He’d have rings in his ears and on his nose
And bracelets and necklaces of elephants teeth.
Gee, I bet he’d be beautiful then all right.
No one would laugh at him then, I bet.
Say! That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert
And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,
That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.
Trick shoes, trick coat, trick cane, trick everything-all glass-
But inside –
Gee, that poor shine!