“Baby, I’m for real”: Black-American Gay poets from a generation ago

ZP_BlackAmericanGay couple_around 1980

.     .     .

“I dream of Black men loving and supporting other Black men, and relieving Black women from the role of primary nurturers in our community.  I dream, too, that as we receive more of what we want from each other that our special anger reserved for Black women will disappear.  For too long we expected from Black women that which we could only obtain from other men.  I dare myself to dream.”

Joseph Fairchild Beam (1954 – 1988) from Brother to Brother: Words from the Heart, a passionate 1984 essay directed at all – not just gay – Black men

.     .     .

Lamont B. Steptoe (born 1949)

Maybelle’s boy”


I get from other men

what my daddy never gave

He just left me a house

full of lonesome rooms

and slipped on in his grave.



when muscled arms enfold me

A peace descends from above

Someone is holdin’ Maybelle’s boy

and whisperin’ words of love.

.     .     .

Don Charles (born 1960)



When you looked and

saw my Brown skin

Didn’t it make you

feel comfortable?


Didn’t you remember that

old blanket

You used to wrap up in

when the nights got cold?


Didn’t you think about that

maplewood table

Where you used to sit and

write letters to your daddy?


Didn’t you almost taste that

sweet gingerbread

Your granny used to make?

(And you know it was good.)


When you looked and

saw my Brown eyes

Didn’t they look just like


.     .     .

Don Charles



You better quit coming around here like that

with no shirt on

and them gold chains on your neck


In them tight shorts

halfway pushed down the back

and your jockstrap showing


Ass jerking from side to side

and your legs all sweaty and shining


Trying to talk dirty

with that Kangol hat cocked to one side


Some dude’s gonna grab you

yank them shorts right down

throw you ‘cross the hood of his car

and ram his dick up your little ass so hard

it’ll make you walk more funny than you do.


Couldn’t nobody blame him neither

the way you walk around

acting like you want something



I may be the one who jams you –

You just better quit coming around here.

.     .     .

Don Charles

“If he hadn’t kissed me”


And the fool said to me

as he humped my behind:

“You ought to try

fucking a woman some time.”


“Gotta have you some pussy

to be a real man,”

he said while I jacked him off

on my divan.


I wanted to ask him

to see if he knew:

“Why would I mess with

a jackass like you,

if pussy was what

I wanted to do?”


And if he hadn’t kissed me,

I would have, too.

.     .     .

David Warren Frechette (died 1991)

Non, Je ne regrette rien”

(for Keith Barrow and Larry McKeithan)

I had big fun if I don’t get well no more.

(“Going Down Slow”, as sung by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland)


Sister Chitlin’, Brother NeckBone and

Several of their oxymoron minions

Circle round my sick room,

Swathed in paper surgical gowns.


Brandishing crosses, clutching bibles,

(God, please don’t let them sing hymns!)

Pestering me to recant the

Wicked ways that brought me here.


“Renounce your sins and return to Jesus!”

Shouts one of the zealous flock.

“The truth is I never left Him,”

I reply with a fingersnap.

“Don’t you wish you’d chosen a normal lifestyle?”

“Sister, for me, I’m sure I did.”


Let the congregation work overtime

For my eleventh-hour conversion.

Their futile efforts fortify

My unrepentant resolve.


Though my body be racked by

Capricious pains and fevers,

I’m not even about to yield to

Fashionable gay Black temptation.


Mother Piaf’s second greatest hit title

Is taped to the inside of my brain

And silently repeated like a mantra:

“Non, je ne regrette rien.”


I don’t regret the hot Latino boxer

I made love to on Riverside Drive

Prior to a Washington march.

I don’t regret wild Jersey nights

Spent in the arms of conflicted satyrs;

I don’t regret late night and early a.m.

Encounters with world-class insatiables.


My only regrets are being ill,

Bed-ridden and having no boyfriend

To pray over me.

And that now I’ll never see Europe

Or my African homeland except

In photos in a book or magazine.


Engrave on my tombstone:

“Here sleeps a happy Black faggot

Who lived to love and died

With no guilt.”


No, I regret nothing

Of the gay life I’ve led and

There’s no way in Heaven or Hell

I’ll let anyone make me.

.     .     .

David Warren Frechette

“The Real Deal”


Don’t want death to catch me crying and acting like I been bad.

Don’t want no hypocrites around my bedside making me feel sad.

When my man comes my way with His golden book and silver scythe,

Then says, “Come along now, David…it’s the end of your life!”

I’ll answer Him,

“I’m a natural fighter, I ain’t gonna go easy,

Although my breath is short, and my stomach quite queasy.”

If I must leave this world hunched over, I got this reliance

That death will have to find me – arms folded in defiance.

.     .     .

ZP_Donald W. Woods photographed in 1987 by Robert GiardZP_Donald W. Woods photographed in 1987 by Robert Giard


Donald W. Woods (1958 – 1992)

What do I do about you?


holy ghost of my heart

grinding my memory

humping my need


throw your head like the dinka

shake your arms like the maasai

a french whore flirting

lickin lips at strangers


been waiting for your lightbulb

to glow for me



to exchange hard ass love

calloused affection


slapping high fives

capable and competent

listless and lonely


turn the blaze up slow

so I can breathe your

mourning breath

wet my pillow

part your eyelids


I’m a typewriter

randy and selfish and wise

a sonnet

a beat box


serve the next line

in your salty metaphors

and smoked salmon humour


wet me with

the next line


the resounding refrain

of grown men in love.

.     .     .

Cary Alan Johnson



I used your letter to roll a joint

and as your lies burned

I inhaled them;

they made me laugh.

.     .     .

Cary Alan Johnson



Last night

I fell silently into your

black sea.

Hair everywhere, in my

mouth, deep inside me,

deep, deeper

than we’d ever

gone before.

Did you know this

time would come?

.     .     .

Djola Bernard Branner

“Red Bandanas”

(as rapped to 101 beats per minute minus-one)


red bandanas

mean fuck me

when worn

in the right

hip pocket

in the right crowd


on castro

or christopher



but mine is worn

around the neck.


it means that

i am remembering


who wiped

the sweat from his

brow onto it

or used it to catch

the contents of

a cough

or laundered it /

and wore it

around his neck.


red bandanas

mean fuck me

when worn

in the right

hip pocket

in the right crowd


on castro

or christopher



but mine is worn

around the neck.


it means that

i am remembering


who placed it

in the palm of

my hand /

and dried

the tears she

cried in it

’cause her

father died

with nothing

but his /


red bandanas

mean fuck me

when worn

in the right

hip pocket

in the right crowd


on castro

or christopher



but mine is worn

around the neck.

.     .     .

Steve Langley

“Tell Mama”


When I was 10 years old, I asked

my mama while she was making potato salad:

“Mama, what’s a homosexual?” She said:

“It’s a man who likes men.”

“What’s a lesbian?”

“It’s a woman who likes women.”

“What makes them like that?”

“I don’t know, son. Nobody knows.

It’s a freak of nature.”


When I was 14, I heard

her say to my stepfather:

“We can’t go nowhere

without you winkin’ and blinkin’

and makin’ advances at other men.

I see you.

I’ll never trust you as long as you got

a hole in your ass.”


When I was 17, I sat

with my mother on our front porch

as she shriveled from cancer.

We watched the stars, felt the breeze,

Tonight I would tell her,

tell her that I was like the men

she told me about,

that I was like my stepfather…

Ants gathered the words at my feet.

I felt them rise through my toes, my ankles,

and my legs. They were creeping through me,

at my waist, in my stomach, my chest.

My throat got thick, my tongue heavy.

I needed to tell her what she already knew.

I began,

But I couldn’t…..

.     .     .

Steve Langley



Build a wall

I’ll find a way to get over

Deal me a bad hand

Watch me change my luck

Turn up the heat

And I’ll make it colder

Do what you want

I’m never giving up.

.     .     .

Steve Langley



I see stains

on your sheets

and tell myself

it’s chicken grease.

.     .     .

Steve Langley



Say yes to love

Say no to sex

Say you, say me

Oh say can you see

We are afraid of each other

Say sister, say brother

Are you still messin’ ’round

Do you have a steady lover

Are you waitin’ for the cure

Are you sure

Are you savin’ yourself

Are you lovin’ yourself

Have you come yet

Are your dreams wet

Is your sex safe

Is it already too late?

ZP_Safe sex poster from 1985 produced by the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership ForumZP_Safe sex poster from 1985 produced by the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum


Steve Langley



i’m chocolate candy

a handful of cookies

the goodies you’re forbidden

to eat

i’m a piece of cake

a slice of pie

an ice-cream bar

that chills your teeth

think of me

as your favourite treat

a pan of popcorn kernels

waitin’ for the heat.

.     .     .

The poems we’ve gathered here were mostly originally published in chapbooks and literary journals between the years 1988 and 1992.  Then, along with short-stories, essays and interviews, some of them were anthologized in Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991), edited by Essex Hemphill, conceived by Joseph Fairchild Beam, with the project being managed by Joseph’s mother, Dorothy Beam.  Others appeared in editor Assotto Saint’s Here to Dare: 10 Gay Black Poets (1992).

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