That brown girl's swagger gives a twitch
To beauty like a Queen,
Lad, never damn your body's itch
When loveliness is seen.
For there is ample room for bliss
In pride in clean brown limbs,
And lips know better how to kiss
Than how to raise white hymns.
All through an empty place I go,
And find her not in any room;
The candles and the lamps I light
Go down before a wind of gloom.
Thick-spraddled lies the dust about,
A fit, sad place to write her name
Or draw her face the way she looked
That legendary night she came.
This is not water running here,
These thick rebellious streams
That hurtle flesh and bone past fear
Down alleyways of dreams
This is a wine that must flow on
Not caring how or where
So it has ways to flow upon
Where song is in the air.
With two white roses on her breasts,
White candles at head and feet,
Dark Madonna of the grave she rests;
Lord Death has found her sweet.
Her mother pawned her wedding ring
To lay her out in white;
She'd be so proud she'd dance and sing
to see herself tonight.
Some are teethed on a silver spoon,
With the stars strung for a rattle;
I cut my teeth as the black racoon—
For implements of battle.
Some are swaddled in silk and down,
And heralded by a star;
They swathed my limbs in a sackcloth gown
On a night that was black as tar.
We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made to eternally weep.
She even thinks that up in heaven
Her class lies late and snores
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
To do celestial chores.
Locked arm in arm they cross the way
The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day
The sable pride of night.
From lowered blinds the dark folk stare
And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.
What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."