Poet’s Corner- Langston Hughes- The Complete Poem Stories
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
He knew for instance, that she would require scotch, high-shelf scotch, to soothe those tender vocal cords like some magic elixir. He liked to speculate on the brand; here it seemed to require Haig &Haig Royal Bonded to aid his cause. (He was right when he asked the waitress what she was drinking when he sent a drink over to her table at intermission, and plenty of it too, judging by the way she drank the drink in front of her between songs). He thought about whether she would want to be complimented on her clothes.(She did, talking for a little too long about it until he moved the subject on to her music, that blues jazz mix that she had down pat, very pat). Or whether telling her that she had a fine body (nice shoulders, slim waist, etc.), nice legs, nice well-turned ankles, nice hair, nice, fill in the blank, or any combination of nices, would get him any place. (It did, as she gave him even more meaningful looks as they talked, only be stopped by the call for the next set from Sammy, the combo leader). And of whether he should ask right then whether she wanted a nightcap with him elsewhere later or ask her ask her at the end of the evening. (End of the evening, a wise choice since she kept giving him meaningful little smiles to keep the mood up throughout that last performance.)
Preliminaries over he once again listened to that angel-voice, listened to her phrasing, listened for the pause between the phrasing, and then that slight little snarl of the upper lip as she went into her own blues-drenched version of Rock Me Baby, and looking right at him, right directly at him, when she sang long drawn out phrasing sang, “rock me all night long.” (He did, and she did too.)
… he spied her across the room the minute he came in the door, eyed her up and down, and then down and up, and while he was too much of a gentleman to lick his chops, and also knew if she had seen him in such a foolish pose he would be sleeping alone that night or with some cheap pick-up floozy ready to roll over for a guy with some dough, some good liquor and reefer, and a line of patter to get her out of her panties (not hard when it came to floozy time he knew, knew only too well) he did so in his. Not some much beautiful as fetching, and fetching in the long haul was usually preferable. Yes, one look at her, one one-over (really twice over) told him that, told him too that he needed to be cool, cool enough to stay a little aloof while she was up at the stand in front of that band singing, singing like some god-struck angel face now that he had stopped looking up and down and started to figure out what he needed to do when intermission time came.
… and hence this be-bop poem in celebration
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
… she, sable born she, daughter of the Nubian night she, daughter of the long flow Nile in ancient times she, daughter of ancient Mother Africa she, Hattie, Aunt Betty, Sarah, Lettie, she, now of the Yazoo in the dark Mississippi night she, sat washing sheets (and other dirtied wear too but sheets first), riverbank washing sheets, like one thousand generation washing womenfolk forbear she, and wistfully dreaming freedom dreams, dreams away from tortured rivers, and away from white sheet sprawls. Dreaming, back to Africa dreaming heard around sullen camp fires and in broken down cabins, dreaming fourth, or was it fifth generation dreaming of breaking out of Yazoo mucks, of endless dawn to dusk toils, and of unspoken, unspeakable Mister riverbank wants.
But mostly she dreamed of Toby, of freedom river Toby, her oldest, now fled, now river fled north, north by the guiding light, north from what the tom toms called, what that other Mister, the train conductor Mister called, the underground river, the river up from Yazoo mucks, up from Mississippi Delta stilts, up to Cairo town waters, yah, up that freedom river like some ancient Nile freedom from pharaoh lashes, from hot suns, from dusty, white, white until you hated the sight of white, bottom land cotton and then move.
And now, just now while daydream wondering where in this wicked old Mister world her beloved Toby was, her thoughts turned to Bob, her thirteen year old come summer Bob standing not a hundred yards from her putting those damn sheets to dry, singing softy about old pharaoh times, about Red Sea parting times, about, and this caused her panic, following the drinking gourd, following she knew the guiding light north, away from Yazoo mucks, and Mississippi silts. She knew, knew deep in her bones that some night, and it would not be long, her Bob too would be other Mister- headed Cairo town bound and that she would have two wonders, two wonders to think of every time she came, one thousand womenfolk generation washing, washing Mister’s sheets in Yazoo mucks.
Little did she know, Miss Hattie , Aunt Betty, Miss Sarah, Miss Lettie know, that not far from Yazoo rivers, one Toby X (let’s not call him some Mister name, some misname, but know he was the son of that sweet Yazoo River washings, and so know a man had been born, was part of the crew on a pilot boat attached to old Mister Sherman’s bummers and was raising hell with Mister’s kindred and that before long, all blue-capped and yellow-striped, he would be heading toward Yazoo rivers too.
Negro Speaks Of Rivers
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Good morning, daddy!
Ain't you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?
You'll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a -
It's a happy beat?
Listen to it closely:
Ain't you heard
like a -
What did I say?
Take it away!
…he, Sam Walker, and just this moment, this Saturday night high-kicking moment being called by his moniker reflecting his Saturday night time, Sidewalk Slim (known as such ever since his corner boy days around 125th Street when he was really slim and when he ruled, ruled for a moment in time, the sidewalk in front of Sadie Barker’s Pool Hall), was, as always on Saturday night, dressed to the nines, yes, the nines. Resplendent in his now well-worn, although serviceable, wide lapel dark brown suit that had seeable pants creases, and off-pink collared shirt to highlight the brown (also well- worn but like the suit serviceable, serviceable Saturday night especially after a few drinks, or some reefer madness kicks, dimmed the lights), a signature string tie reflecting a local hip trend, shoe-shine black shoes, ready to dance almost by themselves. And to top off that resplendent as he walked in the front door of the Red Fez (red to make one think of sunsets, of flaming heats, and fez to make one think back to Mother Africa times and some eternal birth mysteries) was his woman, his lady, Miss Molly, fully gowned, new, new and freely given by a, a, gentleman friend to show some appreciation for her kindnesses. Sidewalk Slim didn’t like the fact that it was new, that he had not purchased it, and that someone else had. They had argued about it for a bit but as usual Slim was at the losing end of a Molly argument when it came to her looks. Finished.
Moreover, this night, the Molly Red Fez night, Slim was eager to have Molly around as his arm piece because none other than the man, Be-Bop Benny and his quartet, Benny from his old corner boy days, who looked like he and his crew were ready to break out, break out big in the emerging swing bing bang bing jazz night, maybe like the Count or the Duke, were playing the house that night and he needed to show he fit in, fit in nicely with the new be-bop, with the hip. So reefer loaded, feeling a little mellow as he sat down at the front table Benny had reserved for him, ordering some high-shelf liquor, a bottle, as befit the occasion Slim for once felt that old time corner boy king of the hill walking daddy feeling that he used to feel around 125th Street. And the night, really the night and the next morning because he and Molly stayed after hours when Benny and other guys from around town after finishing their money gigs for the Mayfair swells and that crowd came by to really blast, worked out just that way. He was beat, beat to hell and back and slept most of the Sunday away.
Come Monday morning, early, in a different suit, the green khaki uniform, complete with his Sam Walker name in white label above the shirt pocket, of the Barclay Cleaning Company, taking the old A-train to work he thought about the day ahead, the long day ahead, and about how his supervisor, Harry, would probably yell to him for the millionth time “Did you clean that women’s toilet on the fifth floor?”or something like that. Jesus.
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?
…he, Ezra Benton, Ezra Benton who had had worked, worked hard, worked his way up from nothing but nigra hot sun beating down cotton field hand to the assistant plantation blacksmith, the man who shoed the damn horses when some fool drove the beasts too hard, heard , heard through the grapevine that now that Atlanta had fallen, had fallen to Sherman and his bummers, that Father Abraham up in the United States, up in Washington, D. C. was going to break up Mister’s plantation and give each nigra family, and maybe others too, maybe some upstart young buck with ambition, forty acres and a mule to get them started now that slavery days were falling down. With that news, Ezra, who normally took news from the grapevine with a grain of salt, no more, got a little wistful. Wistful about how he would collect his now far- flung family scattered here and there throughout the delta, take his forty acres and his mule and plow, plow night and day until the heavens came home, maybe buy some more land, maybe built him a little white picket fence house like he had seen in town, and mainly make sure that his ever hungry kin, and his ever hungry own self had enough to eat, and then some. And so he dreamed…
…he, Brady Benson, son, righteous son of old Ezra Benson, who had help his father, not some Father Abraham but kin father, sharecrop Mister’s plantation land, sharecropped and never got ahead, never go that Ole Abe forty acres, and definitely did not get any mule, had heard, heard through the nigratown grapevine, that some nigra in Louisiana had boarded a whites only trolley in New Orleans, had been thrown off because he was “colored” and was actually going to Washington to have his case heard before the entire United States Supreme Court, all of them to decide if he could ride that thing or not. With that news, Brady, who normally took news from the grapevine with a grain of salt, no more, got a little wistful. Wistful about how maybe now Mister would not be able to take most of the harvest, and most of the little money left from old daddy’s work. About how he, Brady, might be able to get his own small farm and provide for his family on his own instead of being bunched up with daddy. But mainly he thought that from here on in when he went to town, or anywhere, Mister, or some Mister, would not be able to tell him he could sit here, but not there, he could walk here, but not there, he could stand here, but not there, he could eat here, but not there. And so he dreamed…
…he, Leroy, son of Benson, son of righteous Benson, grandson of old righteous Ezra, had got himself a little town learning, a little broken down schoolhouse learning but learning, learning how to weld stuff together with a torch and so he kind of escaped from the bottomlands and hot sun that he family had faced for generations. Now that war had come, a fighting war in Europe between he thought England and Germany, he had floated north, north up big muddy Mississippi north, when he heard that Chi town needed, desperately, needed welders, for stuff sent overseas. And once settled in the Chi town flop house cold- water flat tenements, overpriced, under-fueled all nigra squeezed in like at home he had heard through the grapevine, the Division Street grapevine, that the jobs given out were permanent, to be had for as long as a man, a man can you believe that, wanted to work. With that news, Leroy, who normally took news from the grapevine with a grain of salt, no more, got a little wistful. Got to thinking about bringing up his wife, Louella, and his kids, maybe even daddy and granddaddy, and getting that white picket fence house, maybe with some land for a garden, that old Ezra always kept talking about when he was not muttering some silly stuff about forty acres and a mule. And so he dreamed…
…he, Daniel, Daniel, like something out of the Old Testament Bible, son of Leroy, son of righteous Leroy, grandson of righteous Benson, grand-grandson of the late patriarch Erza, righteous Ezra of the ever dreaming forty acres, and a veteran, a twice purple-hearted veterans, European Theater, took advantage of the G.I. bill and learned the carpentry trade, learned it well, and as well now that he had moved back south with his extended family took to preaching a little (although Leroy, Chi town proud, curled his tongue every time Daniel quoted chapter and verse), a little over at 18th Street Baptist, over on land that had once belonged to Mister, if you can believe that. And once everybody was settled in, wife and her family and his, and his carpentry business was set up and running, he kept hearing rumors, very persistent rumors, through the nigratown grapevine that Mister, or some Mister, was thinking about giving the better sort of nigras the vote, if you could believe that, if you could believe anything Mister said, even if you heard him say it. With that news, Daniel, who normally took news from the grapevine with a grain of salt, no more, got a little wistful. Wistful about how if they, the negros had the right to vote then, maybe, that nigra stand here, that nigra sit there, that nigra walk over that hill, that nigra eat across that river would finally be damn done. And so he dreamed…
Bound No'th Blues
Goin’ down the road, Lawd,
Goin’ down the road.
Down the road, Lawd,
Way,way down the road.
Got to find somebody
To help me carry this load.
Road’s in front o’ me,
Nothin’ to do but walk.
Road’s in front of me,
Walk…an’ walk…an’ walk.
I’d like to meet a good friend
To come along an’ talk.
Hates to be lonely,
Lawd, I hates to be sad.
Says I hates to be lonely,
Hates to be lonely an’ sad,
But ever friend you finds seems
Like they try to do you bad.
Road, road, road, O!
Road, road…road…road, road!
Road, road, road, O!
On the no’thern road.
These Mississippi towns ain’t
Fit fer a hoppin’ toad.
… he, Bradley Brim (juke joint, roadside house, rent party stage moniker, Clarksville Slim, but let’s just stick with Bradley until he needs to use that moniker again up north), was sick and tired of, hell, being sick and tired. First off, after last Saturday night, Bradley was sick and tired of every no account jive- ass jackass field hand, cotton field hand, in the great state of Mississippi feeling like he could, like he could as a natural right, all rum brave on Spider Jones’ homemade, feel that he could throw his whiskey jar at the stage when he didn’t like a particular number he was doing. Damn, go elsewhere. Next off he was sick and tired unto death of every Louella, Bee, Sarah, Selma, and Victoria (those his last four, ah, five girlfriends, for those not in the know, not in the juke joint circuit know), taking what little money he had (and it wasn’t much after expenses, a little reefer, a couple of bucks for some trifle for his girl of the moment) and spending it on her walking daddy, her husband or her pimp. And then at the end of the night saying, sweet purr saying, he was her one and only walking daddy, after he had picked up her tab and they headed to his place, his cabin for what no walking daddy, husband or pimp was giving her. And lastly off he was just about ready to shake the dust of old Spider Jones’juke joints (road houses and cafes too, he had a string of them around the southern part of the state), his cornball liquor, the dust of Clarksville, and the dusts of the great state of Mississippi and follow the northern star to the promised land, to Chi town, to legendary Maxwell Street where a man could make himself and still come out ahead.
And as he started thinking, thinking once again about shaking that damn dust off, he thought too about how he wouldn’t miss his day job at Mister Baxter’s Lumber Company that was hampering his musical development because he couldn’t practice during the day like he should, wouldn’t miss every Mister James Crow-craving white man, woman and child in the state telling him, sit here, don’t sit there , walk here, don’t walk there, eat here, don’t eat there, drink the water here, don’t drink the water there, even Mister Baxter, wouldn’t miss every cornball white hick, white trash hick, really, eye-balling him anytime he went downtown for Mister Baxter, or on his own hook. Wouldn’t miss a lot of things, except those women who shook loose of their walking daddies and wanted him to be their coffee-grinder when the dawn came up.
He heard, and he thought he heard right, heard it from Mickey Mack’s woman who was waiting for him to send for her to come to Chi town any day now that there were plenty of jobs up there, good paying jobs in steel mills and slaughter houses (he thought about, and laughed too, how in school Miss Parker had read the class a poem by some crusty old white guy who called Chi town“hog-butcher to the world”), the housing wasn’t too bad (some cold- water flats which sounded better than the raggedy ass old Mister Baxter cabin he lived in) and get this, nobody, nobody on this good green earth cared where you ate, drank, sat on the bus, as long as you didn’t bother them (and maybe didn’t live next door to them).But mainly all he cared about was making it, or breaking it, he held that possibility out too, on Maxwell Street (or starting out on one of the side streets and working his way up) singing his stuff, singing his covers of Robert Johnson that he thought would drive the women wild (especially his version of Dust My Broom) and of Muddy too. Yah, all he cared about was following that northern star to sweet home Chicago.
…he, black warrior prince proud, sage of the darkened night, spoke, spoke curse and celebration just to keep the record, the historical record straight. He spoke of ancient Spanish conquistador enslavement down in Saint Augustine prison houses. Of ancient Dutchman and Anglo-Saxon slave markets down in fetid Jamestown. Of Middle Passage ocean dumps of human flesh, sold, sold cheap, sold as the overhead price from sweated labors. Of great bustling Atlantic world ports and hectic triangular trade, sugar, rum, slaves, or was it slaves, sugar, and rum, he was not sure of the exact combination but those were the three elements.
He spoke of Cripsus Attucks and Valley Forge fights, black soldierly fights for white freedom all parchment etched, all false, all third-fifths of a man false embedded deep in that founding document. Of compromises, great and small, Missouri 1820, that damn Mex bracero land- eating war against the ghost of those long ago conquistadores, of 1850 compromises, of fugitive slave laws, enforced, enforced and incited. Of Kansas, Kansas for chrissakes, out on the plains all bleeding, and bloody, and no end in sight.
He spoke of righteous push back, of the brothers (and maybe sisters too but they got short shrift in the account books) who made old Mister scream, made him swear in his concubine bed, night. Of brave hard-scrabble Nat Turner, come and gone, old Captain Brown and his brave integrated band (one kin to a future poet) at Harpers Ferry fight, and above all of heroic stand-up Massachusetts 54th before Fort Wagner fight. Of Father Abraham and those coming 200, 000 strong what were they, contraband, or men. Of fighting back against the old rascal Mister down in Mississippi goddam, Alabama goddam and the other goddams.
He spoke of rascally push back against the democratic night. Of Mister James Crow and nigra sit here, not there, of get on the back of the bus, or better walk, it’s good for you, eat here, not there, drink here, not there, jesus, breath here, not there. Of race riots and other tumults in northern ghetto cities teeming with those who tired of eat heres, drink theres, stand over theres, and charted breathes.
He spoke of that good night, that push back against black stolen dignity. Of struggle, hard struggle against the 1930s Great Depression Mister night. Of no more backing down the minute Mister said, no, thought to say, get back. Of riding with the king, of the simple act of saying no, no more. Of great heroic figures risen from the squatter farms, the share-cropped farms, the janitor and maid cities, the prisons, above all the prisons. Of Malcolm and the “new negro” and the bust up of that old fogey “talented tenth”white man fetch. Of brothers (again sisters short-shrifted from the account book) from North Carolina, from Louisiana, from Oakland who said defend yourselves-by any means necessary -if you want to hold your head up high.
He spoke of ebb and flow, of hope, and of no hope in benighted the black America land …
I, Too, Sing America
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway ....
He did a lazy sway ....
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Coming from a black man's soul.
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
"Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf."
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more--
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied--
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
…he, black as night, big, big lungs, some young son, hell, maybe grandson, of the president, no not that president, the Prez, Lester Young, showing some schooling, maybe Berkeley up in Boston where all the new cats learn to blow, sat on a lonely winter corner of 125th Street in high Harlem and blew, blew sweet white notes this way and that on a big sexy sax, tenor sax for the aficionados, against the moving traffic blowing those notes back in his face. He, evoking some big joyous immense faded tale remembrance when Duke, yes, that Duke, and all the jazz age cats, big and small, held forth nightly at the old Cotton Club where the Mayfair swells got their high-hats flattened, got there expensive illegal liquor chilled, and their high yella dream nights sated, were as chasing that faded high white note, chasing it far into the street.
And then he remembered what his father, or maybe it was old grandfather told him about the night Johnny, yes again, that Johnny blew the high white note, blew it to hell and back, and it never came back in his face, never. Yes, Johnny blew that big sexy sax, all dope high, sister, legal in those days, legal when Mister didn’t know he could make a dollar off of it, rather than let some iffy druggist sell it over the counter, maybe a little reefer to flatten the effect and then he blew, blew that big note on A Train, a high white note that trailed out the club door, headed down to the river, make that the East River for those not familiar with New Jack City, or high Harlem, and hit this guy, this lonely black guy, maybe just up from Mississippi goddam or red tide ‘Bama from his ragged attire and head down demeanor learned, hard-headed learned from Mister James Crow , who started grooving (maybe not using that word, maybe not even knowing that word, proving how raw he was, how new city) on that note, started to patter on that note-be-bop, be-bop, be-bop, be-bop (and this before Dizzy crowned boppy be-bop and Charlie swaggered that big sexy horn).
But that brother, that ebony night brother, just couldn’t quite get the hang of the thing, was wrapped up in some old time no electricity juke joint “blues ain’t nothing but a good woman on your mind” , or “old Mister take your hand off me” delta fade-out. So that Johnny deflated note floated down to the sea, out to some homeland Africa fate. And that down south brother never did get another chance to grab the high white note, and probably would have just faded away except he had a son, or was it a grandson, who knew how to be-bop beat that drowsy old delta gimme, knew how to curl it around his big lung sexy sax and blow that thing from the East River haunts all the way up to 125thStreet, all the way up to faded Cotton Club Johnny dreams and endless Mayfair swells reeling out the door (with or without their high yellas) early in harsh Harlem morning…
When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.
First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.
The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.
A long time ago, but not too long ago,
Ships came from across the sea
Bringing the Pilgrims and prayer-makers,
Adventurers and booty seekers,
Free men and indentured servants,
Slave men and slave masters, all new-
To a new world, America!
With billowing sails the galleons came
Bringing men and dreams, women and dreams.
In little bands together,
Heart reaching out to heart,
Hand reaching out to hand,
They began to build our land.
Some were free hands
Seeking a greater freedom,
Some were indentured hands
Hoping to find their freedom,
Some were slave hands
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
But the word was there always:
Down into the earth went the plow
In the free hands and the slave hands,
In indentured hands and adventurous hands,
Turning the rich soil went the plow in many hands
That planted and harvested the food that fed
And the cotton that clothed America.
Clang against the trees went the ax into many hands
That hewed and shaped the rooftops of America.
Splash into the rivers and the seas went the boat-hulls
That moved and transported America.
Crack went the whips that drove the horses
Across the plains of America.
Free hands and slave hands,
Indentured hands, adventurous hands,
White hands and black hands
Held the plow handles,
Ax handles, hammer handles,
Launched the boats and whipped the horses
That fed and housed and moved America.
Thus together through labor,
All these hands made America.
Labor! Out of labor came villages
And the towns that grew cities.
Labor! Out of labor came the rowboats
And the sailboats and the steamboats,
Came the wagons, and the coaches,
Covered wagons, stage coaches,
Out of labor came the factories,
Came the foundries, came the railroads.
Came the marts and markets, shops and stores,
Came the mighty products moulded, manufactured,
Sold in shops, piled in warehouses,
Shipped the wide world over:
Out of labor-white hands and black hands-
Came the dream, the strength, the will,
And the way to build America.
Now it is Me here, and You there.
Now it’s Manhattan, Chicago,
Seattle, New Orleans,
Boston and El Paso-
Now it’s the U.S.A.
A long time ago, but not too long ago, a man said:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL--
ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR
WITH CERTAIN UNALIENABLE RIGHTS--
AMONG THESE LIFE, LIBERTY
AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
His name was Jefferson. There were slaves then,
But in their hearts the slaves believed him, too,
And silently too for granted
That what he said was also meant for them.
It was a long time ago,
But not so long ago at that, Lincoln said:
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN
WITHOUT THAT OTHER’S CONSENT.
There were slaves then, too,
But in their hearts the slaves knew
What he said must be meant for every human being-
Else it had no meaning for anyone.
Then a man said:
BETTER TO DIE FREE
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES
He was a colored man who had been a slave
But had run away to freedom.
And the slaves knew
What Frederick Douglass said was true.
With John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, Negroes died.
John Brown was hung.
Before the Civil War, days were dark,
And nobody knew for sure
When freedom would triumph
"Or if it would," thought some.
But others new it had to triumph.
In those dark days of slavery,
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
The slaves made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
That song meant just what it said: Hold On!
Freedom will come!
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
Out of war it came, bloody and terrible!
But it came!
Some there were, as always,
Who doubted that the war would end right,
That the slaves would be free,
Or that the union would stand,
But now we know how it all came out.
Out of the darkest days for people and a nation,
We know now how it came out.
There was light when the battle clouds rolled away.
There was a great wooded land,
And men united as a nation.
America is a dream.
The poet says it was promises.
The people say it is promises-that will come true.
The people do not always say things out loud,
Nor write them down on paper.
The people often hold
Great thoughts in their deepest hearts
And sometimes only blunderingly express them,
Haltingly and stumblingly say them,
And faultily put them into practice.
The people do not always understand each other.
But there is, somewhere there,
Always the trying to understand,
And the trying to say,
"You are a man. Together we are building our land."
Land created in common,
Dream nourished in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don’t be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don’t be weary, soldier!
The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN
WITHOUT HIS CONSENT.
BETTER DIE FREE,
THAN TO LIVE SLAVES.
Who said those things? Americans!
Who owns those words? America!
Who is America? You, me!
We are America!
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO!
To the enemy who would divide
And conquer us from within,
We say, NO!
To all the enemies of these great words:
We say, NO!
A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!
… he, call him Chester Moore, to give him a name, although in the end he was nameless, or maybe too many names to name and so stick with Chester, Chester of the thousand dreams, Chester of the ten generations in the Mississippi night, the Mississippi goddam night, if that helps. Chester now several generations removed from Mister’s slavery, now a couple of generations removed from the plow, that damn plow and forget all that talk about freedom’s plow, forget all that “talented tenth” talk about hands joined together, white, black, indentured, adventurous, pushing that plow, that plow that kept his daddy and his daddy before him still under Mister’s thumb and Mister’s strange book of etiquette, his Mister James Crow (or call it Miss Jane Crow for his womenfolk were as obsessed and thrilled as old Mister with the forms of the, ah, etiquette and the great black fear-the great miscegenation –damn race-mixing ). Chester all citified now, all book-learned, a little anyway, a little more worldly than daddy and granddaddy who never, ever left the delta for one day, after having done his American, hah, duty to fight off old white bread Hitler in all the crevices of countrified Europe. Chester a little less enamored of Mister Thomas Jefferson and Mister George Washington than daddy or granddaddy (although still enthrall to Father Abraham, and that silky smooth mad monk John Brown) and ready, black hands and all, and only black hands if that is what it took to fire old Mister James Crow (or maybe ravage Miss Jane Crow, if that was what it took) to seize the moment (long before Bobby called his tune- seize the time) and to break out of that fetid Mississippi muck, that cold steel Alabama, and maybe shave that peach fuzz off old stinking gentile new south Georgia.
So Chester gathered Booker, all greasy hands and dank uniform, from the auto shop, gathered Uncle Bill, grizzled by too much processed beef, from the barbecue stand, gathered Edward, head and back bent from ancient seedings, from his hard-scrabble low-down no account dirt share-crop, gathered Robert, full of book knowledge on the sly, from his janitorial duties over at the court house , hell, even gathered Reverend Sims, fat with Miss this or Miss that’s home cooking, from his Lord’s Worship Baptist Church sanctuary from the world, gathered Miss Betsy, an old time love before she took up with Johnny Grey while he was overseas, from her Madame Walker beauty salon (a very strategic move as it turned out since Miss Betsy knew everybody, everybody that Chester needed to turn that silly freedom plow talk into kick ass freedom talk ), gathered Miss Millie from her maidly duties at Mister John Connor’s house, and even gathered (although not without controversy, not by a long shot, mostly from Reverend Sims) Miss Emily Jones, habitué (see he learned something in Uncle Sam’s Army) of Jimmy Jack’s juke joint, hell, just call her good time girl, okay. All others, reverends, bootleggers, juke joint owners, northern liberals, white and black, shoe-shine boys, newspaper shouters, streetwalkers (yes, those streetwalkers), bus-riders (front or back), walkers of indeterminate reason (along Highway 61 dusty roads ready to make an arrangement with the devil if need be), Johnny-come-lately boys (brave too, despite the late hour, brave after the first jail night, the first blooded street fight) , children, high school be-boppers, you name it fill in the rear, because daddy and granddaddy Mister Whitey’s judgment day is here, here and now.
With the trumpet at his lips
Has dark moons of weariness
Beneath his eyes
where the smoldering memory
of slave ships
Blazed to the crack of whips
with the trumpet at his lips
has a head of vibrant hair
until it gleams
were jet a crown
from the trumpet at his lips
mixed with liquid fire
from the trumpet at his lips
distilled from old desire-
that is longing for the moon
where the moonlight's but a spotlight
in his eyes,
that is longing for the sea
where the sea's a bar-glass
with the trumpet at his lips
Has a fine one-button roll,
does not know
upon what riff the music slips
It's hypodermic needle
to his soul
as the tune comes from his throat
mellows to a golden note
Shorty Blast (not his real name , his stage moniker that was all, the reason for the ruse will be mentioned below but was since he was working the New York café society crowd and needed to have a cabaret license a necessary moniker ) dreamed his eternal great big fat immense high white note dream, dreamed it incessantly, dreamed it right then while he was playing, horn splish-splash playing, just kicks riff and raffs, little be-bop, be-bop nothings that got the customers attention and a certain nod, maybe a sent-over scotch, like the brethren knew, hell, knew anything about high white notes or anything. Just then he was dribbling for the early arrivers (and early leavers, the six in the morning wakers, hah, his bedtime, jesus what do they do all day but wait upon the night, their own version of the high white note night), the quick scotch and soda crowd before the night bleeds, bleeds all Mayfair white around eleven (and the real stuff, after hours after two, when the clubs let out and the boys play for each other, and to beat each other, to tag off some phantom riffs ) at this Red Fez gig that he had been working, working for a couple of months now to keep body and soul together and to keep Mister Landlord, a not very understanding fellow, from his door, and to keep the former Mrs. Blast far, far away from his door (and his latest paramour, Miss Lucille Pratt). Yes, he dreamed of that high white note, dreamed when or where or how it would come but never, never that it would not come because , he, frankly, frankly you hear, brothers and sisters, had the sheer lung power and muse-magic to turn that big fat note on a dime.
And so this night, this could be night, Shorty did, as he always work did, once he had a few house scotches in him, or maybe some godsend reefer to change the pace if one of the boys scored (he, having been burnt once with a small container and done a couple up at state prison was not the scorer any more, no way, not that dream note still out there. He knew that the note could come out at the Red Fez, the Hi Hat Club, maybe at some wicked jam at LoJo’s, or even while he was up in his tenement room, practicing ,when Miss Lucille was not around since when Miss Lucille was around, around with her wanting habits on, even Gabriel did not want to blow some funky horn but no way, no way in hell was that note coming out in Ossining town, no way), was to go into a certain state, a certain state where he was not really in the Red Fez , he was not playing for crowds, early or late, was not even in the present time but back to Mother Africa times, to Pharaoh times if anybody was asking, okay.
That Pharaoh time kick had stayed with him since about the sixth grade, yes, it was the sixth grade when he and his older brother (now resting in some European graveyard after having spilled his black brother blood against that damn Hitler) and he, they , were mesmerized by the Egyptian exhibit at the Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston where they grew up complete with pharoanic statues and wondered , wondered out loud about those slave days, about the winds rushing across the Nile, about the rapid river run of the Nile, and about some ancient sound, a sound that sounded very much like the sound that would be produced by that high white note, the note that would bring down pharaoh, bring down Mister’s thousand acre cotton fields, bring down Mister James Crow, bring down that silky smooth Mayfair swell crowd that was starting to fill up the place just then. And so Shorty played, played like Pharaoh was coming to get him, coming to take his deep breath away…
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Clarence Martin knew, knew deep in his bones, that he would now have to talk to his just turned ten son, Lanny (full name Langston, named after the old Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, whom he, and the brothers, had learned about and went “max daddy” be-bop hip-hop crazy over in that GED class at Norfolk when he had done his last stretch, that last and no more stretch for that damn liquor store armed robbery), now that he had made that first midget turn toward“the life” with that foolish “clip” he got caught doing over at Mr. Earl’s Jewelry Store in Roxbury Crossing (he would not tell his son, not for the world, that he too had clipped his fair share of jewelry from that very same establishment although he had never gotten caught in those days before every two-bit place had monitors all over the place). He would have to call his ex-wife, Lanny’s mother, Essie, and make arrangements for them to meet in some neutral place and have it out, have it out about the black facts of life in America, and about taking that midget turn back, back to rolling that rock up the mountain like that old Greek guy did.
As Clarence thought about how to approach his son, about how to tell him about his own troubles with the law that he and Essie had kept from him since Lanny had not even been born when, he, young wild buck he, got his wanting habits on and caused his own Mama and Papa some serious hell. He figured that he would just lay it on the line, man to man, even though at ten Lanny might not understand the whole thing. He would try to explain about a boy’s wanting habits, a boy fresh up from deep in the Jim Crow south, a boy born on some Mister’s sharecrop plantation and then early on moved up into a northern ghetto (over on Washington Street where his own parents still lived) where it seemed like the streets were paved with gold, although his people had no gold, no gold to satisfy his wanting habits. And so it started, started for him and his corner boys, a hustle here, a jack-roll there, a little time at Morton Street, some street dope, some walking daddy pimp action (of his own girlfriend at the time and her sister for chrissakes), then his graduate education-armed robberies for quick nickels and dimes to feed a burgeoning coke habit, then the big house. Graduated and done. A normal profile for a couple of generations of black boys, maybe three. He wouldn’t hold back (except that silly clip action at Mister Earl’s because he didn’t want any like father like son noise).
Then he would point to his own turnaround, his job as head janitor at the John Hancock building in the Back Bay, and the slow and steady rising up of his own life. Nothing big, but he was still alive to talk about it, unlike the five other members of his Uphams Corner jive ass corner boy society who were either six feet under or sitting in some big steel house, mostly the former. He would tell him of Langston Hughes, no not the poet part (although the brother was still the “max daddy “be-bop hip-hop angel high priest) but getting wise in stir, getting wise inside and figuring out after that last stretch that he was either going be dead by thirty or a permanent resident of the underclass either in the big house, or out in some nowhere scene. So he got his GED, picked up some usable trade skills and shook the prison pallor off. And never looked backed, even if the road forward was not going to be blazing guns.
And then he would lay it on the line that ten year old black boys, Lanny black as the night black boys, were born to die at thirty (maybe earlier), were born to have their wanting habits curtailed , were born to spent time in Mister’s steel boxes, were born to wither and die in some sleepy crack house, were as likely to be blown away just for breathing wrong by some blue bastard or some irate honky, as for anything else. He would leave it at that he thought enough to fill up a grown man’s hurts, to fill up a strong grown man’s hurts and sorrows.
A minute later Clarence Martin, father, black father, black father with a story to tell dialed up Essie’s number on his cellphone and when she answered he said , “Hey, Essie, how’s things, I need to talk to Lanny, I need to talk to my son bad… ’’
I’m all alone in this world, she said,
Ain’t got nobody to share my bed,
Ain’t got nobody to hold my hand—
The truth of the matter’s
I ain’t got no man.
Big Boy opened his mouth and said,
Trouble with you is
You ain’t got no head!
If you had a head and used your mind
You could have me with you
All the time.
She answered, Babe, what must I do?
He said, Share your bed—
And your money, too.
The whole world knew, or at least the important parts of that world, that summer of 2012 downtown Boston world (near the Common say from the Public Gardens to Newbury Street but also near birth place Columbus Avenue), knew that Larry Johnson was Ms. Loretta Lawrence’s every day man (and it goes without saying her every night man too). Make no mistake, girls, women, even though they didn’t hold hands in public or throw public kisses at each other, and Loretta at five-ten and rail thin, fashion model day thin didn’t look like trouble, keep your hands off. And they did, those in the fashion industry, mostly her fellow models, and maybe a few longing sidewinder guy designers too. But somebody had Larry’s attention and Loretta was going to get to the bottom of it.
It all started back in February when Larry asked her for a hundred dollars one night, out of the blue. Now Larry had been on a tough stretch ever since the financial collapse in 2008 (although it only bagged him in early 2010) when the markets went crazy and he got caught short, and since business was bad he eventually got that old dreaded pink slip. And nobody was hiring so he had just been kind of living off his old time bonuses, and a little of this and that. Funny they had met at a bar down in the financial district where he had stopped off for a drink after passing his resume around for about the umpteenth time and she had just finished a shoot (for a cosmetic company that had keyed on her for her ravishing dark looks, brown hair, brown eyes, brownish high cheek-boned skin as they were trying to expand their markets) down near the water at International Place and her photographer had offered to buy her a drink. His eyes met hers, her eyes met his in return and before anyone really knew it he had moved in on her like something out of one of those old time novels that you read and at the end both can’t believe that you spent you r good hard-earned rest reading and cannot believe that the “she” of the story would be so stupid in the end to have gotten mixed-up with a wacko like that.
Larry had moved in on her too, literally, after a few weeks of downy billow talk and his argument (which she was okay with, she wasn’t saying she wasn’t) that two could live as cheaply as one (which isn’t true but close enough) and he could cut down on expenses during his rough patch. And it was nice, nice to have a man around, with man’s things, a man’s scent, and a man’s silly little vanities that she had not experienced since Phil (she would not use a last name because Phil was well known, too well-known) had left her a few years back. Every once in a while though she would notice a ten here or a twenty there missing from her pocketbook but figured that either she, spendthrift she, had spent it on some forgotten bobble or Larry had taken it for some household thing and didn’t report the fact (although she, they, had insisted on a collective counting of expenses). Then came the night of Larry’s official request. And she gave it to him, a loan, a loan was all it was. The first time.
After a few more requests for dough, and the granting of those requests, Loretta started to try to figure out what the heck he was doing with the dough (he said it was to help get a job, or he needed new shirts, or something, something different each time). Then she thought about Phil, not about the money part (Jesus, he had thrown his dough at her when he was strong for her, called her his little money-machine and laughed) but as he started losing interest in her he stopped showering the money because he was seeing another woman on the side and showering it on her (that “her” being a friend of hers, and not even beautiful, just smart). And so she started thinking that Larry, Larry the guy who was sharing her bed every night (every night so it had to be a daytime dalliance), was having another affair. She resolved that Larry would get no more money, no more loans, as he called them and if she found out that he was two-timing her that woman had better leave town because, two-timer or not, bum-of-the-mouth or not, he was her man and she had told one and all hands off. And she meant it.
Lincoln Memorial: Washington
Lincoln Memorial: Washington
Let's go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.
And yet a voice forever
…he, Father Abraham he, pug-ugly he that no monument chiseled stone could render beautiful (damn, that age of photography, that Mathew Brady and his merry band, that damn warts and all pre-digital photography, when a painterly touch, say Winslow Homer’s, might have made him, well, just plain). Yes, warts and all, sitting arched in stone in judgment, eternity self-judgment (did he do this or that right to further furrow his brow first of all, overall, preliminary assessment right on union and abolition). He, furrowed and pug-ugly, thus no catch for gentile Kentucky bourbon belle daughters, or so it seemed, all Kentuck born and Illini-bred (where the best they could do was say nigra when talking about the slave problem. And later, much later the sons and grandsons of poor as dirt Kentuck hills and hollows mountain boys, Harlan County roughs, picked that up nigra expression too, and went to their graves with that on their lips, jesus.). He all keep the races split, let them, the blacks, (nigras, remember) go back to Canaan land, go back to Africa, go to some not union place but keep them out of Chi town (sounds familiar) had a conversion, maybe not a conversion so much as a lining up of his beliefs with his walk the walk talk.
So he ran for president, President of the United States, not as a son of William Lloyd Garrison, all Newburyport prissy and hell- bent on damning the Constitution, his Abe well-thumbed, well-read constitution , or some reformed wild boy Liberty man barely contained in the Fremont Republican dust but a busted out Whig when whiggery went to ground, (hell, no, on that tack, otherwise he would still be stuck in Springfield or maybe practicing law in bell-weather podunk Peoria, although he would note what that burg had to say and move slowly). Nor was he some righteous son, Thoreau or Emerson-etched son, of fiery-maned Calvinist sword-in-hand black avenging angel Captain John Brown, late of Kansas blood wars and Harpers Ferry liberation fight (he had no desire to share the Captain’s blood-soaked fate, mocked his bloody efforts in fact, as if only immense bloods would render the national hurts harmless when later the hills, hollows and blue-green valleys reeked of blood and other stenches).
His goal, simple goal (in the abstract), was to hold the union together, and to curb that damn land hunger slavery, that national abyss. And since they ran politics differently in those days (no women, latinos, nigras to fuss over) and were able to touch up a picture or two (and stretch his biographic facts a bit when the “wide awakes” awoke) he won, barely won but won. And then all hell broke loose, and from day one, from some stormy March day one, he had to bend that big long boney pug-ugly body to the winds, his winds.
And he did, not unequivocally, not John Brown prophet proud, fearlessly facing his gallows and his maker, to erase the dripping blood and canker sore from his homeland, but in a revolutionary way nevertheless, broke down slavery’s house divided, broke it down, no quarter given when the deal went down. So more like some latter day Oliver Cromwell (another warts and all man) pushing providence forward with a little kick. More like old Robespierre flaming the masses with the new dispensation, the new word slave freedom. Kept freeing slaves as he went along, kept pushing that freedom envelope, kept pushing his generals south and west and east and tightening , anaconda tightening, the noose on the old ways until Johnny Reb cried uncle, cried his fill when righteous Sherman and his cutthroat bummers got to work too. Yes, old Father Abraham, the last of the revolutionary democrats, the last of the serious ones, who couldn’t say black better that nigra, and never could, but knew the old enlightenment freedom word, knew it good.
…and now he belongs to the ages, and rightfully so, warts and all.
I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day--
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.
He, Jimmy Sands, new in town, new in New Jack City although, not new to city lifehaving lived in Baltimore, Detroit, Chi Town, Frisco and Seattle along the way decided to hit the uptown hot spots one night. Not the “hot’ hot spots like the Kit Kat Club which was strictly for the Mayfair swells, or the Banjo Club, the same, but the lesser clubs, the what did he mock call them, yah, “the plebeian clubs,” which translated to him as the place where hot chicks, mostly white, Irish usually, from the old country, all red-headed, all slim and slinky, all, all, pray, pray, ready to give up that goddam novena book they carried around since birth, maybe before, and live, read give in to his siren song of love, and ditto some sassy light-skinned (high yella his father, his father who never got beyond Kentucky-born nigra to designate the black kindred, called them) black girls, steamy Latinas with those luscious lips and far-way brown eyes, and foxy (foxy if he could ever understand them, or rather their wants) Asian girls, a whole mix, a mix joined together by one thing, no, two things, one youth, young, young and hungry, young and ready, young and, well, you know, young and horny, and two, a love of dancing, rock and roll dancing (and in a pinch, maybe that last dance pinch, in order to seal the evening’s deal, a slow one.
So one James Sands, taxi-driven, indicating that for once in his tender young life that he was flush with dough (having just done a seaman’s three month tour of every odd-ball oil tanker port of call in the eastern world it seemed, he was not sure that he would ever get that oil tank smell out of his nostrils, all he knew was that he would have to be shanghaied or something to get him back on one of those dirty buggers) and ready to spend it on high- shelf liquor (already having scored some precious high end jimson, you know, weed, reefer in case he got lucky), some multi-colored women (choices listed see above), and some music, alighted (nice) in front of Jim Sweeney’s Hi Hat Club up around 100thStreet just around where things began to mix and match in the city. The only problem, when he inquired, inquired of that beautiful ganga connection, was that while Jim Sweeney’s had plenty of high- priced, high-shelf liquor and plenty of that mix and match bevy of women that the place had no live band for dancing just a jukebox. But a jukebox that had every kind of song, rock and blues song, you could ask for and the speakers were to die for. So here he was.
As Jimmy entered (nice, no cover) he remembered back to the old neighborhood, the old high school after school scene, in dockside Baltimore, at Ginny’s Pizza Parlor where every cool guy and gal went to have their chilling out pizza and soda, maybe a couple of cigarettes and to play about ten songs on Ginny’s jukebox. He remembered too that afternoon when Shana, long, tall, high yella (sorry) Shana, from the cheerleaders squad showed up there alone, and Shana, if you had seen her would under no circumstances ever need to be alone in any spot in this good green earth much less at Ginny’s. Seems she and her boyfriend had had a falling out and she was on the prowl. Taking his chances Jimmy, old smooth Jimmy, asked her to dance when somebody put Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven on, and she said, yes, did you hear that, yes. And that dance got him a couple more, and then a couple more after that, until Shana said she had to leave to go home for some supper and then somebody put on Ballad of Easy Rider, a slow one by The Byrds, and that was their last chance dance. They saw each other a few times after that, had shared some stuff, but, hell, there was no way in that damn Baltimore city that a whitebread (term of art used in the neighborhood so take no offense) and a high yella (take offense) could breathe the air there together, although he was ready to jump the hoops to do the thing. Maybe tonight, maybe in the crazy mix and match night if he didn’t get distracted by some red-headed Irish girl ready to burn that damn novena book for some whiskey and smoke, he might find his Shana, make something of it, and make the East River smile.
This was the limit. That exact thought and no other crossed Louise Crawford’s mind as she fumed, fumed for the third time that week waiting, waiting for his lordship, his budding poet lordship, to show up sometime in the next decade so that he could take her to the Red Hat where the Earl and the boys were playing some heavy noted jazz that week. No, no Crawford (yes that Crawford of the Wall Street financiers Crawford she, Louise the youngest daughter, twenty-two, if anybody was asking) was ever on this great earth to be kept waiting, for anything under any circumstances, and she would make that abundantly clear to him when he arrived, if he did arrive. (Of course, she recognized the double-standard, although only recognized it and would not be enslaved to it any more than any other twenty-two year old woman would be, that she was more than willing to play her own fashionably late card when it suited her, especially among her old boarding school friends who made something of a science of the custom.)
She, moreover, did not care, did not care one whit, that he, Jesse to give him a name, was somebody’s protégé , some friend of Mabel Dodge’s granddaughter or something like that, and the greatest poet, the greatest black poet since, what was his name, oh yes, Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance back in the Jazz Age or something (not real jazz, not from what she had heard on old records but more stuff to please the booze-swilling patrons, not like today with Earl, and walking daddies like Earl, and their cool, ultra-cool be-bop, be-bop sound). She had had her full string of Greenwich Village hipsters, or want-to-be- hipsters, of every variety and she had had a veritable United Nations of lovers from the time she had turned eighteen and learned the karma sutra arts (and liked them) from poet prince Jesse back to Bob, the Jewish folksinger, and before him, Jim the jug band guy, and let’s see, Julio the painter, Michelangelo the sculptor (no, not that old time one), Betty, the writer (just a crush and trying something new when some guy, a trumpet player so it figured, introduced her to sister and to some low-life sex stuff), Lothario the high-wire artist and juggler, and, well you know, a lot of very interesting people.
Of course Jesse was her first negro, oops, black lover. (She remembered one night when she called him that, negro, “the greatest Negro poet since Langston Hughes,” when she introduced him to friends at a party and later he yelled holy hell at her saying that he was a black man, a black son of Mother Africa and that his people were creating stuff, human progress stuff, when her people were figuring out how to use a spoon, and trying to figure out why anyone would use such a thing if they could figure it out. He said if he was in Mexico or Spain and was called that it would be okay, okay maybe, but in America he was black, a sable warrior, black. And had been black since Pharaoh times. Later that night he wrote his well-received In Pharaoh Times to blow of the madness steam he still felt toward her). And being her first black lover she gave him some room knowing that he was an artist, and he really was good in bed but this standing up thing was just not done, not done to a Crawford and so she determined that she would give him his walking papers.
Just then she remembered, remembered the last time, that second time he, Jesse, had kept her waiting and the next day, as an act of contrition, he had written his lovely poem Louise Love In Quiet Time for her that some Village poetry journal was all aflutter to publish (and that she had re-read constantly). So maybe tonight she would not give him his walking papers…
Oh, silver tree!
Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
In a Harlem cabaret
Six long-headed jazzers play.
A dancing girl whose eyes are bold
Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
Oh, singing tree!
Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
Were Eve's eyes
In the first garden
Just a bit too bold?
Was Cleopatra gorgeous
In a gown of gold?
Oh, shining tree!
Oh, silver rivers of the soul!
In a whirling cabaret
Six long-headed jazzers play.
Labels: Langston Hughes