My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading "Keep Off."
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.
I am the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Softer than fluff of cotton...
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves...
Foam of teeth... breaking crash of laughter...
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies...
Lazy love of the banjo thrum...
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laughter with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life
of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.
I could love you
as dry roots love rain.
I could hold you
as branches in the wind
Forgive me for speaking so soon.
Let your heart look
on white sea spray
and be lonely.
Love is a fool star.
You and a ring of stars
may mention my name
and then forget me.
Love is a fool star.
FROM the time of the early radishes
To the time of the standing corn
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes.
There are laws in the village against weeds.
The law says a weed is wrong and shall be killed.
The weeds say life is a white and lovely thing
And the weeds come on and on in irrepressible regiments.
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes; and the village law uttering a ban on weeds is unchangeable law.
Wilson and Pilcer and Snack stood before the zoo elephant.
Wilson said, "What is its name? Is it from Asia or Africa? Who feeds
it? Is it a he or a she? How old is it? Do they have twins? How much does
it cost to feed? How much does it weigh? If it dies, how much will another
one cost? If it dies, what will they use the bones, the fat, and the hide
for? What use is it besides to look at?"
Pilcer didn't have any questions; he was murmering to himself, "It's
a house by itself, walls and windows, the ears came from tall cornfields,
by God; the architect of those legs was a workman, by God; he stands like
a bridge out across the deep water; the face is sad and the eyes are kind;
I know elephants are good to babies."
Snack looked up and down and at last said to himself, "He's a tough
son-of-a-gun outside and I'll bet he's got a strong heart, I'll bet he's
strong as a copper-riveted boiler inside."
They didn't put up any arguments.
They didn't throw anything in each other's faces.
Three men saw the elephant three ways
And let it go at that.
They didn't spoil a sunny Sunday afternoon;
"Sunday comes only once a week," they told each other.
Musings of a Police Reporter in the Identification Bureau
You have loved forty women, but you have only one thumb.
You have led a hundred secret lives, but you mark only
You go round the world and fight in a thousand wars and
win all the world's honors, but when you come back
home the print of the one thumb your mother gave
you is the same print of thumb you had in the old
home when your mother kissed you and said good-by.
Out of the whirling womb of time come millions of men
and their feet crowd the earth and they cut one anothers'
throats for room to stand and among them all
are not two thumbs alike.
Somewhere is a Great God of Thumbs who can tell the
inside story of this.
LONG ago I learned how to sleep,
In an old apple orchard where the wind swept by counting its money and throwing it away,
In a wind-gaunt orchard where the limbs forked out and listened or never listened at all,
In a passel of trees where the branches trapped the wind into whistling, "Who, who are you?"
I slept with my head in an elbow on a summer afternoon and there I took a sleep lesson.
There I went away saying: I know why they sleep, I know how they trap the tricky winds.
Long ago I learned how to listen to the singing wind and how to forget and how to hear the deep whine,
Slapping and lapsing under the day blue and the night stars:
Who, who are you?
Who can ever forget
listening to the wind go by
counting its money
and throwing it away?
YOUR bony head, Jazbo, O dock walloper,
Those grappling hooks, those wheelbarrow handlers,
The dome and the wings of you, nigger,
The red roof and the door of you,
I know where your songs came from.
I know why God listens to your, "Walk All Over God's Heaven."
I heard you shooting craps, "My baby's going to have a new dress."
I heard you in the cinders, "I'm going to live anyhow until I die."
I saw five of you with a can of beer on a summer night and I listened to the five of you
harmonizing six ways to sing, "Way Down Yonder in the Cornfield."
I went away asking where I come from.
THE SEA rocks have a green moss.
The pine rocks have red berries.
I have memories of you.
Speak to me of how you miss me.
Tell me the hours go long and slow.
Speak to me of the drag on your heart,
The iron drag of the long days.
I know hours empty as a beggar's tin cup on a rainy day, empty as a soldier's sleeve with an arm lost.
Speak to me ...
I thought of killing myself because I am only a bricklayer
and you a woman who loves the man who runs a drug store.
I don't care like I used to; I lay bricks straighter than I
used to and I sing slower handling the trowel afternoons.
When the sun is in my eyes and the ladders are shaky and the
mortar boards go wrong, I think of you.
WHAT does the hangman think about
When he goes home at night from work?
When he sits down with his wife and
Children for a cup of coffee and a
Plate of ham and eggs, do they ask
Him if it was a good day's work
And everything went well or do they
Stay off some topics and talk about
The weather, base ball, politics
And the comic strips in the papers
And the movies? Do they look at his
Hands when he reaches for the coffee
Or the ham and eggs? If the little
Ones say, Daddy, play horse, here's
A rope-does he answer like a joke:
I seen enough rope for today?
Or does his face light up like a
Bonfire of joy and does he say:
It's a good and dandy world we live
In. And if a white face moon looks
In through a window where a baby girl
Sleeps and the moon gleams mix with
Baby ears and baby hair-the hangman-
How does he act then? It must be easy
For him. Anything is easy for a hangman,
IT'S a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
Ship riveters talk with their feet
To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
"I got the blues.
I got the blues.
I got the blues."
And ... as we said earlier:
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
SHAKE back your hair, O red-headed girl.
Let go your laughter and keep your two proud freckles on your chin.
Somewhere is a man looking for a red-headed girl and some day maybe he will look into your eyes for a restaurant cashier and find a lover, maybe.
Around and around go ten thousand men hunting a red headed girl with two freckles on her chin.
I have seen them hunting, hunting.
Shake back your hair; let go your laughter.
IN the night, when the sea-winds take the city in their arms,
And cool the loud streets that kept their dust noon and afternoon;
In the night, when the sea-birds call to the lights of the city,
The lights that cut on the skyline their name of a city;
In the night, when the trains and wagons start from a long way off
For the city where the people ask bread and want letters;
In the night the city lives too-the day is not all.
In the night there are dancers dancing and singers singing,
And the sailors and soldiers look for numbers on doors.
In the night the sea-winds take the city in their arms.
HUNTINGTON sleeps in a house six feet long.
Huntington dreams of railroads he built and owned.
Huntington dreams of ten thousand men saying: Yes, sir.
Blithery sleeps in a house six feet long.
Blithery dreams of rails and ties he laid.
Blithery dreams of saying to Huntington: Yes, sir.
Blithery, sleep in houses six feet long.
You will come one day in a waver of love,
Tender as dew, impetuous as rain,
The tan of the sun will be on your skin,
The purr of the breeze in your murmuring speech,
You will pose with a hill-flower grace.
You will come, with your slim, expressive arms,
A poise of the head no sculptor has caught
And nuances spoken with shoulder and neck,
Your face in a pass-and-repass of moods
As many as skies in delicate change
Of cloud and blue and flimmering sun.
You may not come, O girl of a dream,
We may but pass as the world goes by
And take from a look of eyes into eyes,
A film of hope and a memoried day.
THE BABY moon, a canoe, a silver papoose canoe, sails and sails in the Indian west.
A ring of silver foxes, a mist of silver foxes, sit and sit around the Indian moon.
One yellow star for a runner, and rows of blue stars for more runners, keep a line of watchers.
O foxes, baby moon, runners, you are the panel of memory, fire-white writing to-night of the Red Man's dreams.
Who squats, legs crossed and arms folded, matching its look against the moon-face, the star-faces, of the West?
Who are the Mississippi Valley ghosts, of copper foreheads, riding wiry ponies in the night?-no bridles, love-arms on the pony necks, riding in the night a long old trail?
Why do they always come back when the silver foxes sit around the early moon, a silver papoose, in the Indian west?
THEY were calling certain styles of whiskers by the name of "lilacs."
And another manner of beard assumed in their chatter a verbal guise
Of "mutton chops," "galways," "feather dusters."
Metaphors such as these sprang from their lips while other street cries
Sprang from sparrows finding scattered oats among interstices of the curb.
Ah-hah these metaphors-and Ah-hah these boys-among the police they were known
As the Dirty Dozen and their names took the front pages of newspapers
And two of them croaked on the same day at a "necktie party" ... if we employ the metaphors of their lips.