Poems to Celebrate Black History Month
By Cornelius Eady
Your body, hard vowels
In a soft dress, is still.
What you can't know
is that after you died
All the black poets
In New York City
Took a deep breath,
And breathed you out;
Dark corners of small clubs,
The silence you left twitching
On the floors of the gigs
You turned your back on,
The balled-up fists of notes
Flung, angry from a keyboard.
You won't be able to hear us
Try to etch what rose
Off your eyes, from your throat.
Out you bleed, not as sweet, or sweaty,
Through our dark fingertips.
We drum rest
We drum thank you
We drum stay.
by Camille T. Dungy
Stripped in a flamedance, the bluff backing our houses quivered in wet-black skin. A shawl of haze tugged tight around the starkness. We could have choked on August.
Smoke thick in our throats, nearly naked as the earth, we played bare feet over the heat caught in asphalt. Could we, green girls, have prepared for this?
Yesterday, we played in sand-carpeted caves. The store we built sold broken bits of ice plant, empty snail shells, leaves. Our school’s walls were open sky.
We reeled in wonder from the hills, oblivious to the beckoning crescendo and to our parent’s hushed communion.
When our bluff swayed into the undulation, we ran into the still streets of our suburb, feet burning
against a fury that we did not know was change.
The Birth of John Henry
by Melvin B. Tolson (1898–1966)
The night John Henry is born an ax
of lightning splits the sky,
and a hammer of thunder pounds the earth,
and the eagles and panthers cry!
John Henry—he says to his Ma and Pa:
“Get a gallon of barleycorn.
I want to start right, like a he-man child,
the night that I am born!”
Says: “I want some ham hocks, ribs, and jowls,
a pot of cabbage and greens;
some hoecackes, jam, and buttermilk,
a platter of pork and beans!”
John Henry’s Ma—she wrings her hands,
and his Pa—he scratches his head.
John Henry—he curses in giraffe-tall words,
flops over, and kicks down the bed.
He’s burning mad, like a bear on fire—
so he tears to the riverside.
As he stoops to drink, Old Man River gets scared
and runs upstream to hide!
Some say he was born in Georgia—O Lord!
Some say in Alabam.
But it’s writ on the rock at the Big Bend Tunnel:
“Lousyana was my home. So scram!”
Yet Do I Marvel
by Countee Cullen (1903–1946)
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
by Gwendolyn Bennett (1902 - 1981)
by Langston Hughes (1902–1967)
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.
by Leonard A. Murray
I am waiting
Peering upon the crevice that love slipped into
Trying not to turn my eyes away in resignation
Hoping for the words to flow like the cream of satisfaction that ooze from the fissure of creation
And let the eyes know there is somewhere to watch besides god
Because at this crevice we seek satisfaction not salvation
And show all lovers how to be free, giving them life and love in the same drip
Or a poet I’m not and love like my word is dead.
Black Boys Play the Classics
by Toi Derricotte
The most popular “act” in
is the three black kids in ratty
sneakers & T-shirts playing
two violins and a cello—Brahms.
White men in business suits
have already dug into their pockets
as they pass and they toss in
a dollar or two without stopping.
Brown men in work-soiled khakis
stand with their mouths open,
arms crossed on their bellies
as if they themselves have always
wanted to attempt those bars.
One white boy, three, sits
cross-legged in front of his
their slick, dark faces,
their thin, wiry arms,
who must begin to look
Why does this trembling
A: Beneath the surface we are one.
B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.