I Am The Darker Brother

langston hughes 2
Langston Hughes

 

“I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?

~ Langston Hughes

 

I, Too

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.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.
Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.


Dreams were a constant theme in Langston Hughes writing from his first published poem, Weary Blues, to one of his most famous, Harlem:

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?

When Elmer Rice, a playwright, sent out a questionnaire to others on the black list from Senator McCarthy’s investigation into “Anti-American” activities, Langston Hughes, who was at the top of the list replied in a 1952 letter:

Dear Elmer,

Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:

  1. The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.

He goes on to give a more thorough scorching of the racism and lack of opportunity he has faced in career, because of racism. I am always drawn to Hughes for his honesty. There is a righteous anger that runs through the back bone of his verse, even in his poems of joy, that gives it validity and strength. I have shared other Hughes poems in earlier posts, including his poem Let America Be America Again a much more compelling vision for change than our president’s red MAGA hat – which represents to me when I see it, a buffoon puffing his chest to “Make Assholes Great Again.”

Hughes’ poem below, As I Grow Older, brings the imagery of walls into focus. It is a powerful reminder that walls have symbolism far beyond their physical presence. Walls can serve a purpose in making peace between neighbors and providing physical security. But walls that are meant only to keep people corralled in ways that prevent them from seeing their hope for the future serve no one’s best interest and will eventually be torn down with time.

Let’s spend our money wisely.  Let’s support the arts with federal tax dollars with equal zeal with which we invest in the military and border security and see which one in the end moves us further forward in meeting the ideals of what America can be, with a just, strong and safe, civil society.


As I Grew Older

by Langston Hughes

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

 

 

Where Shall We Meet

paul-laurence-dunbar
Paul Lawrence Dunbar

On An Old Book With Uncut Leaves

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

Emblem of blasted hope and lost desire,
No finger ever traced thy yellow page
Save Time’s. Thou hast not wrought to noble rage
The hearts thou wouldst have stirred. Not any fire
Save sad flames set to light a funeral pyre
Dost thou suggest. Nay,–impotent in age,
Unsought, thou holdst a corner of the stage
And ceasest even dumbly to aspire.

How different was the thought of him that writ.
What promised he to love of ease and wealth,
When men should read and kindle at his wit.
But here decay eats up the book by stealth,
While it, like some old maiden, solemnly,
Hugs its incongruous virginity


I wonder if you have to be a writer to understand the sadness of this poem?  Only writers think about such things as whether the words they put forth are destined to languish, untouched and unbidden, between the pages of a fading dust jacket.  Dunbar is one of the those writers who does everything well.  He wrote beautiful classical poetry, he wrote free verse and he also wrote lyrics to songs and poems in the vernacular of his day.  He just flat out wrote.


 

A Song

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Thou art the soul of a summer’s day,
Thou art the breath of the rose.
But the summer is fled
And the rose is dead;
Where are they gone, who knows?

Thou art the blood of my heart o’ hearts,
Thou art my soul’s repose
But my heart grows numb
And my soul is dumb;
Where art thou, love, who knows?

Thou art the hope of my after years —
Sun for my winter snows;
But the years go by
`Neath a clouded sky.
Where shall we meet, who knows?

 

Be Justly Proud and Gladly Safe

file-8 (9)
Poinsettia in need of a drink.

 

“When people get married because they think it’s a long-time love affair, they’ll be divorced very soon, because all love affairs end in disappointment.  But marriage is a recognition of a spirtual identify.”

Joseph Campbell

The Blossom

by John Donne

LITTLE think’st thou, poor flower,
Whom I’ve watch’d six or seven days,
And seen thy birth, and seen what every hour
Gave to thy growth, thee to this height to raise,
And now dost laugh and triumph on this bough,
Little think’st thou,
That it will freeze anon, and that I shall
To-morrow find thee fallen, or not at all.

Little think’st thou, poor heart,
That labourest yet to nestle thee,
And think’st by hovering here to get a part
In a forbidden or forbidding tree,
And hopest her stiffness by long siege to bow,
Little think’st thou
That thou to-morrow, ere the sun doth wake,
Must with the sun and me a journey take.

But thou, which lovest to be
Subtle to plague thyself, wilt say,
Alas ! if you must go, what’s that to me?
Here lies my business, and here I will stay
You go to friends, whose love and means present
Various content
To your eyes, ears, and taste, and every part ;
If then your body go, what need your heart?

Well then, stay here ; but know,
When thou hast stay’d and done thy most,
A naked thinking heart, that makes no show,
Is to a woman but a kind of ghost.
How shall she know my heart ; or having none,
Know thee for one?
Practice may make her know some other part ;
But take my word, she doth not know a heart.

Meet me in London, then,
Twenty days hence, and thou shalt see
Me fresher and more fat, by being with men,
Than if I had stay’d still with her and thee.
For God’s sake, if you can, be you so too ;
I will give you
There to another friend, whom we shall find
As glad to have my body as my mind.


I am at that stage in my relationship with my Poinsettia every year from Christmas, where I inevitably go a little too long on watering it and it starts to wilt.  Poinsettia’s are like every other relationship, over water it and it gets damp feet and dies from a smothering mold.  Under water it and it will hit the critical wilting point, which by definition is the stage at which no amount of watering will bring it back from the brink of death, because cells have been damaged beyond repair, the essence of the plant is gone even if a little green remains.  Fortunately, I caught mine in time that it perked right up and looked happy by the end of the day, giving me a bright red smile knowing I was thinking about it.

However, I have learned over the years, that let it get to that early wilty point a couple of times and things will go down hill quick. The plant will come back vegetatively but the shine is off the bloom. Consistent, even though it be unintentional, lack of attention to watering, going just a wee bit too long of not being present with your poinsettia, will cause it to drop its top red leaves, scale back and try to hold on with buds at the bottom.

My father has poinsettias that are many years old, so careful is his watering and care for them.  He has an ivy plant that is over 60 years old and several others over 30 years old. My sister called and we chatted about her approach with poinsettias. She lives in Oakland, CA and said that she throws her out in the backyard by the steps early in the new year and let’s it go feral, free to try and make it on there own.  She said some don’t have the stamina and die and others make it to spring and she plants them in her garden, survival of the fittest with a minimalist approach to care and nurturing.  What’s your approach to house plants? Does it mirror your approach to your romantic relationships?

I found these two poems by John Donne recently and instantly knew how I wanted to share them.  Each is a remarkable poem, though the old English makes it a little more difficult to wade through.  A Jet Ring Sent shows that marriage and separation are no different now than 400 years ago, in partnerships wedded in love.  I read the ending, not as divorce but commitment, paraphrasing;  “Circle this finger’s top, with your thumb.” What a simple beautiful way to acknowledge your wedding with your lover and the contentment of seeing a physical reminder of those vows on each other’s fingers. I read the poem as an affirmation of being attentive to your most important relationship. “Be justly proud and gladly safe, thou that dost dwell with me.”  When both partners affirm that sentiment getting up from bed every morning and having a cup of tea together, you know you are in it for the long haul.

John Donne wrote some of the most beautiful religious sonnets of the past 500 years. A true man of God, who did not forsake his flesh, or his family, but lived well on this earthly plain as well.


A Jet Ring Sent

by John Donne

THOU art not so black as my heart,
Nor half so brittle as her heart, thou art;
What wouldst thou say? shall bout our properties be thee be spoke,
—Nothing more endless, nothing sooner broke.

Marriage rings are not of this stuff,
Oh, why should ought less precious, or less tough,
Figure our loves? except in thy name though has bid it say,
“–I’m cheap, and nought but fashion; fling me away.”

Yet stay with me, since thou art come,
Circle this finger’s top, which didst her thumb,
Be justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou dost dwell with me.
She that O! broke her faith, would soon break free.

Love Me As I Am

file-11 (3)
T. A. Fry – Day dreaming with a twinkle in my eye.

 

love is more thicker than forget

by e. e. cummings

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

 


It’s Valentine’s Day, a day hopeless romantics unite to eat prix fix expensive dinners with cheap champagne with someone who makes them smile. I hope you’re one of ’em.  Dating in your mid 50’s requires a bit of a thick skin and a sense of humor. If you are one of my fellow 50 something daters, love is in the air if not chalk candy hearts in your dish.  If you haven’t heard, the company that makes those went bankrupt.  This is not a cosmic karmic sign that love is dead.  In fact it is a love success story as a new round of investors has bought the company and plan to have inventory in place for next year so your chalky lite-pink BE MINE candy can wind up in your squeezes tummy.

I do find it just a tiny bit odd, that all of us who are mid 50’s, at this incredible junction in our lives, for most of us helping our elderly parents or parent, watching our 20 something children launch their adult lives and/or ushering in grand children, while still dealing with late stage careers and trying to navigate the last stretch without getting side swiped or down sized, while reeling from watching friends be stricken by cancer, despite dealing with all that stuff on our plates, (not to mention male and female menopause), we then set this preposterously high bench mark to simply go out on a date. You would think with all those stressors we would make it easier to eat Tai food over a glass of wine with a member of the opposite sex who responds in much more human sounding responses than our pets or dead silence in our downsized apartments.  I do laugh at the bios people post on online dating apps and the criteria they have for agreeing to see someone for the first time.  When did we get that choosy?  Answering 438 questions on-line to filter out dates?  Yikes.  It didn’t work that way in high school or college.

Sadly, many of us in our mid 50’s suffer from PTSD – Post traumatic stress divorce syndrome. Or even worse yet, the traumatic loss of a spouse because of death. In both cases we are coping and adapting to the loss of a partner.  If it is because of divorce, we have come through the grindstone of a once successful marriage that deteriorated into something that was no longer successful and have enough bruises and scars accumulated that we’re still recuperating and wondering if we have what it takes to take a run at one last great love affair, preferably one that take us all the way to end of our lives. It can be even harder emotionally to move on for those still dealing with the processing of grief. Dating is daunting, but the alternative of not dating is daunting as well. How do you find that person that can meet you at your level for companionship? On-line multiple choice quizzes? I don’t think so. Probably have to roll up our courage, take a shower and get out there on a date and find out.

Fortunately, I have good role models in my life that you can find love at every stage.  My 87-year-old father is dating an older women for the first time and the two of them bring happiness and fun into each others lives on a daily basis while steadfastly maintaining their independence.  My friend Liz, who is 91 and in an assisted living facility, just moved again so that she could be only a couple of doors down the hall from her friend Jerry. Both are confined to wheel chairs these days, but eat 3 meals a day together and always have something interesting to talk about and a kind word for the other.  For both of these couples there is no screen time intervening, they are 100 percent present in each other’s company and have the most optimistic of spirits.

I wrote Generous Eye – the sonnet below, on a Sunday afternoon, after having gone to church with my Mom, we were sitting next to Liz, her wheel chair parked right next to our pew.  The pastor’s sermon made reference to generous eyes and I wrote it down in my bulletin as a writing prompt and this sonnet eventually emerged. At the time I was dating a french speaking woman and the only thing holding our relationship together was passion and it was obvious that wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship going forward. My writing, I think like most writers, is not autobiographical, it is an attempt to create a reality I hope one day might exist.

Romance is this odd magical trance, where it can’t begin generally without some attraction but as the relationship matures into something lasting, it needs to soften and be flexible, just like our bodies as we age, into a greater focus on companionship, while wanting a partner whose ear is still tuned to hear the ancient lutes and lyres playing the song that stirs our bones and keeps us going. I am envious of those couples, like in the song below referencing Johnny and June Cash, whose love lasted through the best and worst of their lives. We all aren’t so fortunate.  But we should all keep trying, your Liz or Jerry might still be out there waiting for you.  Happy Valentines Day!

 


 

Generous Eye

by T.A. Fry

As salient desires spark like steel on flint,
with generous eye and gentle ear you scold
my broken ways, without the faintest hint
your loyalty sways, nor spite has taken hold.
What’s after passion?  Mon amour, je t’aime!
Will lust be lost amidst our dwindling fuel,
as ancient bonfires cool?  I’ll not condemn
this reckless plight where human hungers rule,.
For sexual desire knows no bounds of youth.
All hear its song from deep within their flesh.
It sings; “Caress me dear….with the naked truth.
Heal from gentle touch as two hearts enmesh.
Savor carnal knowledge, as a worthy goal,
And love me as I am; body, mind and soul.”

Upward To Heaven He Flings

maya-angelou
Maya Angelou

“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

Maya Angelou – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Sympathy

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!


 

Does it surprise you as you read Paul Lawrence’s Dunbar poem Sympathy to realize that Maya Angelou’s brilliant memoir lifts its title from his poem?  Angelou as a human being, writer, poet, political activist and likely the person with the most amazing voice on the planet during her lifetime, consciously connected her story to Dunbar’s. I think all writers recognize that they can not separate completely their own creativity from the art that has inspired them throughout their lifetime.  I applaud it when rather than trying to hide that fact, they choose to do like Angelou did, and make the connection front and center, for their readers to delve further on their own, pointing us in the direction of greatness and letting us discover the very things that inspired them.

Dunbar grew up in Dayton, Ohio.  He was in the same high school class as Orville Wright, who would assist Dunbar in getting his first volume of poetry published. It’s nice to know that one half of the duo that made the first successful flight appreciated poetry. Dunbar’s career as a writer is an inspiration of not accepting the barriers that were in place that seemingly made it impossible.   He died young at the age of 33, after having critical and financial success and utter ruin and critical dismissal, often within a stretch of only a couple of years.   He died of a combination of repeated bouts of what is described as “poor health” but was a combination of pneumonia and alcoholism.

The poet and writer Nikki Giovanni, a Dunbar scholar, says in his biography in The Poetry Foundation that:

….his work constitutes both a history and a celebration of Black life. “There is no poet, black or nonblack, who measures his achievement,” she declared. “Even today. He wanted to be a writer and he wrote.”

Here is a short video of Angelou discussing with Oprah Winfrey her intentions behind her memoir and also a short poem by Angelou that is a reminder of what Audre Lorde said, paraphrasing, that revolution isn’t a one time event, rebellion  and pursuit of justice are every generation’s responsibility.


Caged Bird

by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

 

Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Audre lorde.jpg
This is a print of a painting by Molly Crapapple of the author Audre Lorde, originally released as part of PEN America’s #writersresist campaign.  Check out her website if you would like to purchase a copy.  https://mollycrabapple.com/product/audre-lorde/
“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”
Audre Lorde

 

A Woman Speaks

by Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.


I can definitively say that I do not have any insight into what it is to be black in America or a black woman. But to quote her;  “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”   

The opening two sentences of her biography on the Poetry Foundation website speak to Lorde’s mission of using poetry as a change agent and a healing force.

“A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.”

Poetry Foundation

In many ways, the two of us could not be more different, I am a white male, born into a middle class family, have experienced all of the benefits and priviledge that those two facts impart.   And yet in this short video below, Audre Lorde articulates exactly the same thoughts that I have on artistic expression and legacy and a concept of what we do in this life and what we leave behind. And since those are the answers that hold the most weight in my world, then are we not brethren?  Are we not more same than different? If we have arrived at the same answers by way of a very different roads do we not share the same view of the sunset?

 

Audre Lorde had to live fast and full and make an impact.  She died of breast cancer at the age of 58 (1934 – 1992), the median age of me and my siblings presently, something that feels much too short for a woman with as big, and important voice as hers.  If you read Lorde’s poetry you might question why I have included her on Fourteenlines, as sonnets do not appear as part of her legacy.  Yet her first published poem was a sonnet, (which I have yet to find a copy, if you have one, please share.)   She said of her writing:

“I learned about sonnets by reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s love sonnets and loving them and deciding I was going to try. I learned to write love poems by reading poems I never understood but the words would get me high. I remembered all of these particular things. I started writing because I had a need inside of me to create something that was not there.”

Audre Lorde

Lorde had too many things to say to stay confined within the walls of a sonnet.  Thank goodness she pushed through and found her voice and created her own world.  Below is a lovely sonnet by Allison Joseph, a poet, an educator and editor.  Enjoy.


 

Apologies To My Hair: A Black Woman’s Sonnet

by Allison Joseph (1967 –

So why’d I torture you for years, so long,
inflicting chemicals on scalp and skin,
pulling hunks of you through fiery combs
so you’d lie straight and stiff? I only thinned
your numbers out, made sure you couldn’t grow
strongby shocking you with lye, a dryer’s din
and heat to fry my follicles, then hair spray or foam—
thick mousse to make my hair obey, make it akin
to cotton candy. Now, I let you roam
wherever you want. Couldn’t leave you be
before, but now I’m awed by all I find
in you: a stray feather, leaf shed from a tree,
a strand of my husband’s hair, a texture we
don’t share. Somehow, we still end up entwined.

Whirling Fantastic

 

Luminary Loppet
Luminary Loppet Minneapolis, MN

The Snow Fairy

by Claude McKay

I

Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,
Whirling fantastic in the misty air,
Contending fierce for space supremacy.
And they flew down a mightier force at night,
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,
And they, frail things had taken panic flight
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.
I went to bed and rose at early dawn
To see them huddled together in a heap,
Each merged into the other upon the lawn,
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.
The sun shone brightly on them half the day,
By night they stealthily had stol’n away.


We have had not one but two significant snow storms this week.  We have surpassed the monthly average total for snow fall in Minneapolis and here it is only barely the end of the first week of February.  Unfortunately prior to the snows fell a sheet of ice such that everything was coated with treachery, driving reduced to a crawl until the salt could work and walking even more of a nuisance.  It didn’t deter my enjoyment of the snow.  I am one of those people who want a healthy taste of winter, so that we know what its like to be cold.  We need to touch our lizard brains with a reminder to be grateful when the sun warms us upon a rock next summer.

Claude McKay is making a reappearance on Fourteenlines.  McKay is one of my favorite poets, along with Langston Hughes of the Harlem Renaissance. I like this poem as it shows that McKay’s writing was also a poetic voice aboout beauty in our world.

It has not been a good week for the Democratic party in terms of leading by example.  We have the top three elected state wide officials in the Commmonwealth of Virginia all either admiting to or being accused of actions that if confirmed, should lead to their resignations.  A reminder that no one political party has a monopoly on stupidity.  I don’t have to wonder what McKay and Hughes would have written about our current state of politics, for as rocky as things are currently in the state of our union, things are not nearly as bad, nor is the putrification of racism any more virulent than it was a hundred years ago.  Both writers were consistent in their unvarnished depiction of the impact of racism on diminishing all of society from its potential.  But neither poet allowed racism to poison their hearts, they saw its adherants wounded by stupidity and worthy of pity as well as being loathsome for their beliefs. McKay did not hide his bitterness in his writing, nor did he wallow in it either, transcending the darkness of bigotry to also depict the joy of being alive on a winters day, with the hope of spring not far ahead.

Here’s part II of The Snow Fairy.


II

And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you
Who came to me upon a winter’s night,
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.
My heart was like the weather when you came,
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;
But you, with joy and passion all aflame,
You danced and sang a lilting summer song.
I made room for you in my little bed,
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,
A downful pillow for your scented head,
And lay down with you resting in my arm.
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.