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!

 

 

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.