Secret Knowledge

wanda_coleman
Wanda Coleman

American Sonnet (35)

By Wanda Coleman (1946 – 2013)

boooooooo. spooky ripplings of icy waves. this
umpteenth time she returns–this invisible woman
long on haunting short on ectoplasm

“you’re a good man, sistuh,” a lover sighed solongago.
“keep your oil slick and your motor running.”

wretched stained mirrors within mirrors of
fractured webbings like nests of manic spiders
reflect her ruined mien (rue wiggles remorse
squiggles woe jiggles bestride her). oozy Manes spill
out yonder spooling in night’s lofty hour exudes
her gloom and spew in rankling odor of heady dour

as she strives to retrieve flesh to cloak her bones
again to thrive to keep her poisoned id alive

usta be young usta be gifted—still black

Copyright © 1998 by Wanda Coleman.


Amen

By James Baldwin (1927 – 1984)

No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.
I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

What Only The Poets Know

 

AR-307169935
Claude McKay

If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, then he can not by loyal to anything.

Claude McKay.

Poetry

By Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)

Sometimes I tremble like a storm-swept flower,
And seek to hide my tortured soul from thee.
Bowing my head in deep humility
Before the silent thunder of thy power.
Sometimes I flee before thy blazing light,
As from the specter of pursuing death;
Intimidated lest thy mighty breath,
Windways, will sweep me into utter night.
For oh, I fear they will be swallowed up–
The loves which are to me of vital worth,
My passion and my pleasure in the earth–
And lost forever in thy magic cup!
I fear, I fear my truly human heart
Will perish on the altar-stone of art!


 

Check out this excerpt of an audio recording of a James Baldwin speech.  In it he says; “the artist’s struggle for integrity is a metaphor for the struggle of all human beings to become human beings.”

What kind of artist are you?  What kind of artist do you want want to be?  Interesting questions to contemplate.

 

A House in Taos

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

Rain

Thunder of the Rain God:
.        .And we three
.        .Smitten by beauty.

Thunder of the Rain God:
.      .And we three
.      .Weary, weary.

Thunder of the Rain God:
.        .And you, she, and I
.        .Waiting for nothingness.

Do you understand the stillness
.        .Of this house
.       ..In Taos
Under the thunder of the Rain God?

Sun

That there should be a barren garden
About this house in Taos
Is not so strange,
But that there should be three barren hearts
In this one house in Taos—
Who carries ugly things to show the sun?

Moon

Did you ask for the beaten brass of the moon?
We can buy lovely things with money,
You,she,and I,
Yet you seek,
As though you could keep,
This unbought loveliness of moon.

Wind

Touch our bodies, wind.
Our bodies are separate, individual things.
Touch our bodies, wind,
But blow quickly
Through the red, white, yellow skins
Of our bodies
To the terrible snarl,
Not mine,
Not yours,
Not hers,
But all one snarl of souls.
Blow quickly, wind,
Before we run back
Into the windlessness—
With our bodies—
Into the windlessness
Of our house in Taos.

 

What’s Important

jean-toomer
Jean Toomer

“Modern thought and literature begins with the invention of the sonnet.”

Paul Oppenheimer in The Birth of the Modern Mind

Banking Coal

By Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967)

Whoever it was who brought the first wood and coal
To start the Fire, did his part well;
Not all wood takes to fire from a match,
Nor coal from wood before it’s burned to charcoal.
The wood and coal in question caught a flame
And flared up beautifully, touching the air
That takes a flame from anything.

Somehow the fire was furnaced,
And then the time was ripe for some to say,
“Right banking of the furnace saves the coal.”
I’ve seen them set to work, each in his way,
Though all with shovels and with ashes,
Never resting till the fire seemed most dead;
Whereupon they’d crawl in hooded night-caps
Contentedly to bed. Sometimes the fire left alone
Would die, but like as not spiced tongues
Remaining by the hardest on till day would flicker up,
Never strong, to anyone who cared to rake for them.
But roaring fires never have been made that way.
I’d like to tell those folks that one grand flare
Transferred to memory tissues of the air
Is worth a like, or, for dull minds that turn in gold,
All money ever saved by banking coal.


Curiosity is the only lens anyone has into the life of another human being.  What I enjoy about poetry is that it wipes away the differences that may appear to divide us and aligns all of humanity around our common dreams, the innermost whispers that make us all the same.

 

The sonnet may feel to some like a straight jacket of literary convention. If you look deeper, its history is one of rebellion. The sonnet was the first lyric form intended for self reflection.  Throughout its history, the sonnet has been used as a radical vehicle to share the poet’s self-consciousness and self- conflict through the brazen use of first person.

The sonnet is far from settled as a literary form and Jean Toomer’s poem Banking Coal is a great example of that flexibility. Toomer utilizes elements of the sonnet structure to connect to a deeper literary history.  The sonnet is a vehicle for self-discovery and self-definition that cannot be defined by a single racial or gender identity.

Toomer was fiercely independent and refused to be categorized during his lifetime as strictly an African American writer, although his publisher played up his connection to the Harlem Renaissance movement in part to increase sales.  Toomer moved continually between black and white societies and did not allow himself to be bound by race in his personal or professional life. Toomer claimed to be an American who represented a new culture, a mixing of American society.

His novel Cane was widely acclaimed as a new voice in literature. In it Toomer combines poetry, short stories and theater dialogue into a fluid vehicle for story telling.  Cane is written in a unique style that broadened the idea of the modern novel.  The sonnet below is an excerpt from Cain.

On a side note, Toomer and I have something in common, in that we both studied Agriculture at a land grant University, in his case the University of Wisconsin.


November Cotton Flower

by Jean Toomer

Boll-weevil’s coming, and the winter’s cold,
Made cotton-stalks look rusty, seasons old,
And cotton, scarce as any southern snow,
Was vanishing; the branch, so pinched and slow,
Failed in its function as the autumn rake;
Drouth fighting soil had caused the soil to take
All water from the streams; dead birds were found
In wells a hundred feet below the ground—
Such was the season when the flower bloomed.
Old folks were startled, and it soon assumed
Significance. Superstition saw
Something it had never seen before:
Brown eyes that loved without a trace of fear,
Beauty so sudden for that time of year.

 

 

 

 

My Heart Be Brave

JamesWeldonJohnson
James Weldon Johnson

“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”

James Baldwin

Sonnet

by James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)

My heart be brave, and do not falter so,
Nor utter more that deep, despairing wail.
Thy way is very dark and drear I know,
But do not let thy strength and courage fail;
For certain as the raven-winged night
Is followed by the bright and blushing morn,
Thy coming morrow will be clear and bright;
’Tis darkest when the night is furthest worn.
Look up, and out, beyond, surrounding clouds,
And do not in thine own gross darkness grope,
Rise up, and casting off thy hind’ring shrouds,
Cling thou to this, and ever inspiring hope:
Tho’ thick the battle and tho’ fierce the fight,
There is a power making for the right.

 

 


 

 

Le Sporting-club de Monte Carlo (For Lena Horne)

By James Baldwin

The lady is a tramp
a camp
a lamp

The lady is a sight
a might
a light

the lady devastated
an alley or two
reverberated through the valley
which leads to me, and you

the lady is the apple
of God’s eye:
He’s cool enough about it
but He tends to strut a little
when she passes by

the lady is a wonder
daughter of the thunder
smashing cages
legislating rages
with the voice of ages
singing us through.