Let Us Hurry

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George Floyd Memorial on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis

I Look At The World

by Langston Hughes

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.

I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!

I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.


I visited the site where George Floyd was killed last Sunday, nearly two weeks since his death.  It was a place of honor and healing.  The energy was expansive, grief filled but not overwhelmingly so.  As I approached there were free supplies available to be safe in the age of the pandemic.  There were hand sanitizing stations, free masks, a medical bus parked sideways in the middle of Chicago Avenue preventing any flow of traffic to allow people to pay their respects and approach quietly on foot. There was a huge flower stand with free flowers or a voluntary donation so everyone could honor George Floyd and place them anywhere we were moved to do so.  The nearly half block long rows of flowers that lead up to the spot where he died is an incredible sight. There was music of many different kinds being made, there were chants, and prayers and offerings, artwork, posters and impromptu messages that people had created and left behind. There was a feeling of solidarity that something better has to come out of this.

I was inspired by the artwork of all shapes and sizes, posters, paintings, murals, sculptures, all to express the myriad of emotions that collide at this time and place. What shouldn’t be surprising is that it is a typical south Minneapolis neighborhood. A neighborhood anchored by stores, schools, non-profits, restaurants, shops, gas station, places of worship and art galleries.  There is a lovely wetland and pond, with a fountain less than a block away which leads to large grassy park which under normal times would be home to soccer practices and pick up base ball games this time of year. It is a neighborhood that is diverse with a mixture of buildings from new to over a hundred years old.  If you visit someday you will be surprised how it looks like almost any urban neighborhood that has a small family owned grocery store on the corner. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture it, only disbelief in what occurred there. However, it is not a common place anymore, it is a sacred place to honor Black Lives Matter and George Floyd.  It is a place of extraordinary tragedy.  And my only hope is that from this is a positive uprising, an uprising for change.

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What Kinds of Times Are These

by Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

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Our Poor Eyes, Knowing Only

Death Sonnets I

by Gabriela Mistral (1889 – 1957)

From the icy niche where men placed you
I lower your body to the sunny, poor earth.
They didn’t know I too must sleep in it
and dream on the same pillow.

I place you in the sunny ground, with a
mother’s sweet care for her napping child,
and the earth will be a soft cradle
when it receives your hurt childlike body.

I scatter bits of earth and rose dust,
and in the moon’s airy and blue powder
what is left of you is a prisoner.

I leave singing my lovely revenge.
No hand will reach into the obscure depth
to argue with me over your handful of bones.

Los Sonetos de la Muerte

by Gabriela Mistral

I

Del nicho helado en que los hombres te pusieron,
te bajaré a la tierra humilde y soleada.
Que he de dormirme en ella los hombres no supieron,
y que hemos de soñar sobre la misma almohada.

Te acostaré en la tierra soleada, con una
dulcedumbre de madre para el hijo dormido,
y la tierra ha de hacerse suavidades de cuna
al recibir tu cuerpo de niño dolorido.

Luego iré espolvoreando tierra y polvo de rosas,
y en la azulada y leve polvareda de luna,
los despojos livianos irán quedando presos.

Me alejaré cantando mis venganzas hermosas
¡porque a ese hondor recóndito la mano de ninguna
bajará a disputarme tu puñado de huesos!


Gabriel Mistral was the pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, Mistral began writing poetry in her early twenties following the tragic death of her lover. Mistral was an educator by profession, teaching elementary, secondary school until her poetry made her famous. Her status in Latin America literature afforded her the opportunity to become an advocate for education in both Mexico and Chile. Mistral was active on cultural committees of the League of Nations, becoming the Chilean consul in Naples, Madrid and Lisbon. Mistral later taught Spanish literature in the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico.

Mistral’s Sonetos de la muerte (love poems in memory of the dead), made her known throughout Latin America, but her first heralded collection of poems, Desolación [Despair], was published in 1922. Mistral wrote poetry about many themes, but her volumes published in 1924 and 1938 dealt with childhood and maternity and tenderness. Mistral was recognized for her contributions to literature and won the Nobel Prize in 1948.

I share below two translations of her poem Alondras, one by Langston Hughes and one by Ursula K. Le Guin.  It’s interesting to see how each poet approached the poem and their different interpretations. I regret that my Spanish is not good enough to read it in the original and understand it more fully, but I am grateful that Mistral’s work inspired great minds to translate it into English.  Do you have a favorite Mistral poem?


Alondras

by Gabriela Mistral

Bajaron a mancha de trigo
y al acercarnos, voló la banda,
y la alamede sd quedó
del azoro como rasgada.

En matorrales parcecen fuego;
cuando suben, plata lanzada,
y passan antes de que passen,
y te rebanan la alabanza.

Saben no más los pobres ojos
que passó toda la bandada,
y gritando llaman “alondras!”
a lo que sube, se pierde y canta.

Y en este aire malherido
nos han dejado llenos de ansia,
con el asombro y el tremblor
a mitad del cuerpo y el alma….

Alondras, hijo, nos cruzamos
las alondras, por la llanda!

 

Larks

by Gabriela Mistral

translated by Langston Hughes

They came down in a patch of wheat,
and, as we drew near,
the flock flew away
and left the startled field quite empty.

In the thicket they look like fire;
when they rise, like silver darting.
And they go by even before they go,
cutting through your wonder.

Our poor eyes, knowing only
that the whole flock has gone,
cry “Larks!” to those who rise,
and are lost, and sing.

In the sorely wounded air
they leave us full of yearning,
with a wonder and a quiver
in body and in soul…

Larks, son! Above us sweep
the larks across the plain!

Larks

Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

They were in the scattered wheat.
As we came near, the whole flock
flew, and the poplars stood
as if struck by a hawk.

Sparks in stubble: when they rise,
silver thrown up in air.
They’re past before they pass,
too quick for praise.

Eyes are too slow to see
the whole flock’s taken wing,
and we shout, “Larks!”
at what’s up–lost–singing.

In the air they wounded
they’ve left us with a longing,
a tremor, a wonder
half of the body, half of the soul.

Larks, child–see,
larks rise from the wheat!

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!

 

 

Buy Terms Divine

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Anthony Bourdain  – Rest In Peace

Sonnet XX

By Langston Hughes

POOR soul, the centre of my sinful earth–
My sinful earth these rebel powers array–
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men;
And Death once dead, there ‘s no more dying then.

 

I Dream A World

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Langston Hughes Testifying Before The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1953.

Blacklisted 

by Carl Sandburg

Why shall I keep the old name?
What is a name anywhere anyway?
A name is a cheap thing all fathers and mothers leave each child:
A job is a job and I want to live, so
Why does God Almighty or anybody else care whether I take a new name to go by?

I Dream A World

by Langston Hughes

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

 


In my recent blog post, Break My Ghostly Heart,  I wrote about Dorothy Parker being blacklisted and the impact it had on her.  However no individual was accused by the House Un-american Activities Committee (HUAC) of having more communist associations than Langston Hughes. Hughes would be forced to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s subcommittee in 1953. In the end, Hughes’ legacy is one as a true American, not McCarthy.  The current claims of being “more patriotic” by Trump and his supporters ring with the same falsehoods that McCarthyism did in the 1950’s.

Langston responded to a questionnaire sent by Elmer Rice to 50 writers who had been named as suspected communists by the government in Red Channels.  Rice asked Langston a series of questions, but simply put – he was asking how has being blacklisted impacted you.   Here is a portion of Hughes’ brilliant reply to Rice in a letter in 1952.


Elmer Rice:   QUESTIONNAIRE

  1. Has the publication of your name in Red Channels adversely affected your employment or the use of your material in the radio and television fields?

 

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.
  2. Answered above.
  3. Negro writers, being black, have always been blacklisted in radio and TV. Only once in a blue moon are any colored writers given an opportunity to do a script and then, usually, with no regularity, and no credits. Like Hollywood, Negroes just simply are not employed in the writing fields in the American entertainment industry.
  4. My personal experience has been that in my 25 years of writing, I have not been asked to do more than four or five commercial one-shot scripts. These were performed on major national hook-ups, but produced for me no immediate additional jobs or requests. One script for BBC was done around the world with an all-star cast. No American stations offered me work. My agents stated flatly, “It is just about impossible to sell a Negro writer to Hollywood or radio, and they use Negro subject matter very rarely.” Even the “Negro” shows like “Amos and Andy” and “Beulah” are written largely by white writers—the better to preserve the stereotypes, I imagine.

During the war I did a number of requested scripts for the Writers War Board, used throughout the country. Most of the white writers serving this committee also got any number of paying jobs to do patriotic scripts. Not one chance to do a commercial script was offered me.

My one period of work in radio covering several weeks was a few summers ago scripting the NBC show, “Swing Time at The Savoy”, a Negro variety revue. This was achieved at the insistence of the N.A.A.C.P. that objected to the stereotypes in the audition scripts written by white writers. NBC had at that time had not one Negro writer on its staff—which would have saved them making the mistakes the N.A.A.C.P. objected to and which were offensive to the general Negro public. As far as I know, Negro writers are, however, “blacklisted” at NBC. I know of none working there regularly.

Richard Durham in Chicago and Bob Lucas and Woody Bovell in New York are excellent radio writers but, being Negroes, they work with great irregularity—not due to being red but due to being colored.

  1. No point in my appearing—the color bars everyone knows have been with us since radio began, before TV was born, and long ere that.

I’d like to add, however, my personal gratitude to you and the committee for your very fine stand in relation to the freedom to work—for those writers who are white enough to work (when not red-baited) and I hope as well for those writers who have been blacklisted from birth.

And to you for your personal stand, Elmer, my very great admiration.

Sincerely yours,
Langston Hughes

 

Excerpted from “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes” (Knopf), edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel with Christa Fratantoro. Copyright © 2014 the estate of Langston Hughes.

Who Are You That Draws Your Veil Across The Stars

Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)


 

So begins Langston Hughes classic poem.    Although the rest of the poem does not follow strictly a sonnet’s structure there are elements of a sonnet throughout.  Have you ever considered why Hughes and many other poets and playwrights include sonnets in the midst of their verse?   I have a theory.  It’s because 10 syllables on a line is a natural spacing between breaths.  Poetry or a script that is meant to be read aloud, lends itself to the first step in writing a sonnet of 10 syllables, and including a sonnets rhyme sequence helps listeners, readers, orators and actors navigate the script’s structure.

I find it egregious that Donald Trump ripped off his Make America Great Again slogan from Langston Hughes.  I wonder if he or any of his Republican followers are aware of Langston Hughes poem and legacy. One of the hypocrisies of Trumpism is that its narrow “me first” narcissistic worldview undermines the very dream that is America.  Trumpism has a rotten core of greed and selfishness.

There is some irony though that there never has been a period in our history of our nation where the reality of America matched up to the dream of America.  Maybe that’s what makes our democracy and this nation enduring.  The fact that every generation has to deal with it’s own hypocrisy, regardless of your own personal beliefs and values, we are all hypocrites in that our actions do not live up to our ideals.   Every generation must face itself, understand itself, seek to do better, seek to let America be America again, even if it never was in the first place, other than as an ideal, as a beacon, as a bright light in the harbor.

Here is Hughes’ poem in its entirety:


Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

 

 

Even After All This Time

hands-of-love

“Even 
After 
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

Hafiz

 

 

When Sue Wears Red

by Langston Hughes

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

What Only The Poets Know

 

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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.

 

Yet Do I Marvel

Langston Hughes and Countee Culleen
Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen – Oil on Canvas by Ealy Mays 2011

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King

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!

 

Georgia Dusk

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

Sometimes there’s a wind in the Georgia dusk
That cries and cries and cries
Its lonely pity through the Georgia dusk
Veiling what the darkness hides

Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk
Left by a streak of sun
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk
Whose Blood? …Everyone’s

Sometimes a wind in the Georgia dusk
Scatters hate like seed
To sprout its bitter barriers
Where the sunsets bleed