We Weep For Him

Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)

We must not be frightened nor cajoled into accepting evil as deliverance from evil. We must go on struggling to be human, though monsters of abstractions police and threaten us. Reclaim now, now renew the vision of a human world where godliness is possible and man is neither gook nigger honkey wop nor kike but man permitted to be man.

Robert Hayden

Frederick Douglass (An Excerpt)

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro’ out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O’er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o’er the gale!
Thou ‘st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast’ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

Leadership eventually answers to history, not the moment.   The decisions made in the face of chaos with hardly a breath between them in the most dire of circumstances will be carefully pursed from every angle for generations of historians in the coming decades.  The luxury of hindsight and time will whittle away at the facade of pride, ego and even courage and lay bare the humbling nature of war, that not even the victorious, are free of failure.  I am not a historian, but I see no path to anything other than chaos and destruction unfolding in Ukraine.  Its why the current failure of leadership around the world, failure of governments to lead at this critical time in human history, is so distressing to those that believe that collectively we can do better than we are doing on a multitude of fronts; global warming, basic human rights, democracy, health care, equity, the list is endless.  And it is why the failure of leadership in the past, is now coming back to haunt the diplomats of today.

I am going to end where I began the month with Frederick Douglass.  Douglass met with President Lincoln several times during his presidency.  We would never know what their partnership could have yielded had Lincoln not been killed.  Both men were incredibly skilled in the art of oration, of inspiration, of ethical leadership at levels that are so profoundly beyond the levels of leadership of all political stripes today, it astounds.  Each man’s best speeches read more like poetry than political discourse.  

Frederick had been one of Lincoln’s harshest critics right up until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which changed everything.  The two met shortly after when the Confederacy declared that all African Americans who fought on the side of the Union would not be treated with the rights of prisoners of war, but would be executed or re-enslaved on the basis of being illegal insurgents.  Remember that all of the Confederate Generals who were to carry out this order had trained together at West Point with their Union counterparts.  The parallels to the insanity unfolding in Ukraine is only that when men scheme to control their future without a foundation of morality their failure is assured, it is only a matter of time.  Fascism never succeeds long term. The free people of Ukraine will ultimately win, but the question is at what cost? And how long will be the shadow of the scar of today remain? 

Douglass delivered his own eulogy of Lincoln several weeks after Lincoln’s death on the National Day of Mourning.  Below are several excerpts for Douglass’ eulogy that seem particularly poignant at this moment in time.  May peace yet prevail in the Ukraine, in the United States and in our own communities. 


Henceforth we have a new date, a new era for our great Republic: Henceforth a new account is opened,between the government and the people of the United States: Henceforth there is to be no north no south in American politics, but a common country of all for all: Henceforth the nation assumes a new position and a new relation to the nations of the Earth: Henceforth an American citizen may defend his country at the tribunal of the world’s judgement,without defending a glaring inconsistency and a scandalous crime:Henceforth there is an end to that compromising statesmanship—which has so deeply demoralized both the Government and the people:Henceforth we shall stand an acknowledged power among the great powers of Europe and exert a beneficent influence in the destiny of nations.Out of the vast and dreadful concatenation of evils which have environed us,brought upon us during these four years of treason rebellion and assassination, we shall yet be the recipients of immeasurable and priceless blessings: It is something that the crash has come and that the worst is known—that the storm cloud has burst and sent down its bolt and has left the blue sky above,calm and bright as when the morning stars sang together for joy!

Frederick Douglass – Lincoln Eulogy

A more tranquilizing thought comes to us on this occasion. That thought is the inevitability of the conflict. It was beyond the power of human will or wisdom—to have prevented just what has happened. We should never forget that this dreadful war with all its incidents was a part of—and sprung out of the fundamental elements of our national structure—and was in the nature of things unavoidable. We have but reaped where we had sown. Its hour had come, and there was nothing left but to make room for it, to accept it, and derive from it, whatever advantage it brought. We could no more evade it, than we could unmake our anticedents.

When slavery was first planted in the national soil, treason, rebellion and assassination were planted with it and their bloody fruit was bequeathed to the present generation. And if in the coming reconstruction, we shall encorporate any of the seeds of injustice, any of the remains of slavery, we shall repeat the mistake of our fathers, with the certainty that our children after us will reap a similar harvest of blood to that we have just experienced.

All the great nations of the Earth, no matter how isolated their location, no matter how iron like their ruler no matter how conservative their statesmen, no matter how carefully they exclude the light of new ideas—are fated to pass through what may be termed their historical periods—certain grand epochs, made up by the irrepressible tendencies of their inherent social forces, coming upon them whether they will or not.

Frederick Douglass – Lincoln Eulogy

In Memoriam –  Frederick Douglass (An Excerpt)

by Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1852 – 1916)

Yes! our great chief has fallen as might fall
Some veteran warrior, answering the call
Of duty. With the old serenity,
His heart still strung with tender sympathy,
He passed beyond our ken; he’ll come no more
To give us stately greeting as of yore.
We cannot fail to miss him. When we stand
In sudden helplessness, as through the land
Rings echo of some wrong he could not brook,
Then vainly for our leader will we look.

But courage! no great influence can die.
While he is doing grander work on high,
Shall not his deeds an inspiration be
To us left in life’s struggle? May not we
Do aught to emulate him whom we mourn?
We are a people now, no more forlorn
And hopeless. We must gather courage then,
Rememb’ring that he stood man among men.
So let us give, now he has journeyed hence,
To our great chieftain’s memory, reverence!

Do I Need To Say More

Yusef Komunyakaa

“Through the years I have seen myself as a peaceful person, but the awareness of the anger is part of that process.”

Yusef Komunyakaa


by Yusef Komunyakaa

In a country of splendor & high
Ritual, in a fat land of zeros,
Sits a man with string & bone
For stylus, hunched over his easel,

Captured by perfection.
But also afflictions live behind
Electric fences, among hedges
& a whirlwind of roses, down

To where he sits beside a gully
Pooling desires.   He squints
Till the mechanical  horizon is one
Shadowplay against bruised sky,

Till the smoky perfume limps
Into undergrowth.  He balls up
Another sheet in unblessed fingers, always
Ready to draw the thing that is all mouth.

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Louisiana.  He served in the Vietnam war, a combat war correspondent for the Army writing for the Southern Cross.   He returned and received a BA from the University of Colorado Springs, an MA from Colorado State University, and an MFA from the University of California-Irvine. His poetry is heavily influenced by his southern experiences, his war time service, his involvement with the civil rights movement and jazz.  In short, its well rounded and interesting.  Komunyakaa has taught at many prestigious institutions and was the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2005.  He has received numerous awards including the Wallace Stevens award in 2011.  

In reading a mixture of his poems, there is a directness and underlying tension that mixes well with his careful construction and word choices.   There is an autobiographical quality to most of his poems that creates an honesty in his craft that resonated with me.   In interviews, he speaks about his approach to poetry like a carpenter, in which each line is built carefully to support the next beam in the frame of the structure of the poem.

I am somewhat tired of the need to feel inspired by poetry during this long drawn out cold winter and never ending pandemic and now, more warfare in the headlines.  I am sure I will come back to syrupy sweetness again, but at this moment,  I am far more attracted to the directness and sometimes violence of Komunyakaa’s world, than the puffery of so many poets that transfers little mental nutrition.  Not that an occasional dose of inspiration isn’t needed, but I am preferring the company of poets who speak from an experience about a world in which the only thing we can do is to keep trying.  

What are you wanting from the poetry you read these days? Are you asking too much of it or even reading with the right intentions, forcing poems into places they were never intended? Of course that’s impossible, poetry can be whatever you want it to be.  What I am wrestling with is what words are bringing me the most nourishment these days, or leaving me the most famished?   How do I approach the meme-ish world of nothing-burger  land of so much of what I see on shelves of Barnes and Noble?  Does it satisfy you?  


By Yusef Komunyakaa

Beauty, I’ve seen you
pressed hard against the windowpane.
But the ugliness was unsolved
in the heart & mouth.
I’ve seen the quick-draw artist
crouch among the chrysanthemums.
Do I need to say more?

Everything isn’t ha-ha
in this valley. The striptease
on stage at the Blue Movie
is your sweet little Sara Lee.
An argument of eyes
cut through the metaphor,
& I hear someone crying
among crystal trees & confetti.

The sack of bones in the magnolia,
What’s more true than that?
Before you can see
her long pretty legs,
look into her unlit eyes.
A song of B-flat breath
staggers on death row. Real
men, voices that limp
behind the one-way glass wall.
I’ve seen the legless beggar
chopped down to his four wheels.

A Fund of Unrest

Nathaniel Mackey (b. 1947 –

“What any experimental art is trying to get you to do is move beyond your preconceptions and your expectations regarding what should be happening, what’s going to happen, what kinds of effects it should have, and enter a liminal state in which those things can be redefined in the way that the particular artist or piece of art is proposing.”

Nathaniel Mackey

    —“mu” one hundred thirty-fourth part—

An Excerpt
by Nathaniel Mackey
Let myself be leaned on though I did, linger
    though I did, I heard enough hearing he died
  when Terremoto died . . . So it was I plugged
      ears with strum. Had I listened I’d have la-
  mented my lost body. I leaned against his lean-
    ing, lent my support . . . Propped up in my
  right, I wondered what I leaned on. A shade
      he might’ve been, soul serenade the song he
    soul, it seemed, a fund
  of unrest

There is something fundamentally contradictory in trying to include Nathaniel Mackey’s long form poetry into the style of this blog – Fourteenlines.  As a master of Jazz poetry and spoken word poetry, Mackey deserves to be included in this months collection, but excerpts simply don’t do his work justice.  I would encourage you to read more of his work in its original form if these snippets strike your fancy. Mackey is known for his embrace of long form poetry to share a deeper narrative about his own and our collective journey as human beings.   
There are two words that Mackey frequently uses in his poetry; antiphon and andoumboulou.  Antiphon means; a verse or song to be chanted or sung in response, like a psalm, hymn or prayer sung in alternate parts.   Andoumboulou, from West African Dogon mythology, means “a rough draft of human being, the work-in-progress we continue to be.”
Chanting is common place as a form of shared worship in many religions of the world, but has become seen as a bit old fashioned in many Protestant congregations.  It’s a shame that chanting has faded from popularity.   Frederick Buechner,  a noted theologian, says that group chanting can reconnect words to meaning.  He wrote on a recent blog: “when a prayer or a psalm or a passage is chanted, we hear the words again.  We hear them in a new way.  We remember that they are not only meaning, but music and mystery.  The chanting italicizes them.  The prose becomes poetry.  The prosaic becomes powerful.”
If you would like to learn more, I recommend the short video below, its a great way to learn  about Nathaniel Mackey’s approach to his art and life. 

On Antiphon Island

by Nathaniel Mackey

—“mu” twenty-eighth part—

   On Antiphon Island they lowered
the bar and we bent back. It
  wasn’t limbo we were in albeit
       we limbo’d. Everywhere we
                                                   went we
  limbo’d, legs bent, shoulder
   blades grazing the dirt,
andoumboulouous birth-shirts,
    sweat salting the silence
 we broke… Limbo’d so low we
     fell and lay looking up at
   the clouds, backs embraced by
       ground and the ground a fallen
  we were ambushed by… Later we’d
      sit, sipping the fig liqueur, beckoning
 sleep, soon-come somnolence nowhere
     come as yet. Where we were, not-
withstanding, wasn’t there…
                                             Where we
  were was the hold of a ship we were
      in. Soaked wood kept us afloat… It
wasn’t limbo we were in albeit we
    limbo’d our way there. Where we
 were was what we meant by “mu.”
     we were was real, reminiscent
  arrest we resisted, bodies briefly
 held on
     “A Likkle Sonance” it said on the
record. A trickle of blood hung
    overhead I heard it spurts. An
  introvert trumpet run, trickle of
      A trickle of water lit by the sun
        I saw with an injured eye, captive
  music ran our legs and we danced…
bent, asses all but on the floor, love’s
      bittersweet largesse… I wanted
   trickle turned into flow, flood,
        two made one by music, bodied
          gone up into air, aura, atmosphere
              the garment we wore. We were on
            a ship’s deck dancing, drawn in a
    above hold… The world was ever after,
Where we were they said likkle for little, lick
     ran with trickle, weird what we took it
  for… The world was ever after, elsewhere,
  way where we were
was there

A Love Supreme

Michael S. Harper (1938 – 2016)

“Poets find their voices when they articulate the wishes of the dead, especially those slain as sacrificial talismans to a larger frame of existence.

Michael S. Harper

Jazz Station

by Michael S. Harper

Some great musicians got no place to play

Above the freeway, over the music,
we speak of the strategy of poems,
bleeding wives who ulcerate
our voices rhythming in the cut-heat
Portland stink from the Willamette River;
arteries of smog fixate this place
in each recording, music, music, on Impulse.
This little racist community has few friends;
thousands of deerslayers hum into Beaverton,
the one talk show driven out for their talk
as the liberals dig in to KGO out of San Francisco;
we troop toward the Lloyd Center for the ice-skating,
the colorette bloomered dream merchants on rented skates,
and the Sunday Chronicle near the big hotel.
The poets, man and wife, write in the dimming air,
their daughter in the toy rooms connecting them,
the typewriter tacking the nails and snaps of her gown.
This image of separation begins in adoption:
her mother adopted out in San Jose; her father
disowned, abandoned, torn out of the will; her name: Phoebe.
And the sun does shine on them for this visit
in squat pigeontoes, and this beach ball sings.

New York City is a character, not just a place in the force that is jazz poetry.   Michael S. Harper, like so many other jazz poets, was born there, in Brooklyn in 1938. He took the opportunity as a young man to experience new horizons through his education, getting his undergraduate in California and his MFA in Iowa.   He would go on to travel the globe, while being one of the most influential professors of literature at Brown University.  Harper during his tenure would influence and mentor generations of writers and poets during his career. 

Brown embraced the nuances of jazz and black identity in his writing while finding common ground by embracing global culture and folklore.   As important for his academic work as for his art, his playful poetic nature infused his unique style as a writer. 

Harper, a celebrated music observer, essayist, and just plain fan, had a life long love affair with jazz.   In reading Harper’s poems, Coltrane is a reoccurring inspiration as both a symbol and a character of affection in his writing. Harper connects with the obstacles Coltrane had to over come.  In particular Coltrane;s challenges with pain in his embouchure at the height of his career and his need to be constantly looking for ways to ease the discomfort while never wavering in his mastery of master his craft. Coltrane would die of liver failure at age 40 as the result of addictions, to music, to heroin and alcohol.   Harper connected with both Coltrane’s music and his humanity.  In his poem Dear John, Dear Coltrane, Harper writes midway through; 

Why you so black?
cause I am
why you so funky?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
why you so sweet?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
a love supreme, a love supreme:
To read the entire poem, check out this link and try reading it as you listen to this live version of Coltrane playing – A Love Supreme – Pt. IV – Psalm. 

Here Where Coltrane Is

by Michael S. Harper
Soul and race
are private dominions,   
memories and modal
songs, a tenor blossoming,
which would paint suffering   
a clear color but is not in   
this Victorian house
without oil in zero degree
weather and a forty-mile-an-hour wind;
it is all a well-knit family:   
a love supreme.
Oak leaves pile up on walkway
and steps, catholic as apples
in a special mist of clear white   
children who love my children.   
I play “Alabama”
on a warped record player
skipping the scratches
on your faces over the fibrous   
conical hairs of plastic
under the wooden floors.
Dreaming on a train from New York   
to Philly, you hand out six
notes which become an anthem
to our memories of you:
oak, birch, maple,
apple, cocoa, rubber.
For this reason Martin is dead;
for this reason Malcolm is dead;
for this reason Coltrane is dead;
in the eyes of my first son are the browns   
of these men and their music.

Nothing Will Keep Us Young

Sonia Sanchez

The joy of poetry is that it will wait for you. Novels don’t wait for you. Characters change. But poetry will wait. I think its the greatest art.

Sonia Sanchez

Personal Letter #3

by Sonia Sanchez

nothing will keep
us young you know
not young men or
women who spin
their youth on
cool playing sounds.
we are what we
are what we never
think we are.
no more wild geo
graphies of the
flesh. echoes. that
we move in tune
to slower smells.
it is a hard thing
to admit that 
sometimes after midnight
i am tired
of it all.

Do you think about the role of elders in shaping our current view point and helping craft the path of your future?   The concept of valuing the voice of elders in our community is a concept that never goes away completely but does rise and fall with the tides of marketing and pop culture and ageism that sometimes negates the old in favor of the young.  Right now I would say the value of elders is waning in most communities, which is unfortunate, particularly among the community of poets that are still alive, which are living bridges to the evolution of what we consider modern poetry, poets that helped shape the civil rights movement and are still helping to define social justice today.   

Sonia Sanchez is one of those living bridges, an elder of poetry, that is still publishing, still speaking, still educating and enlightening the world through her eyes as a black woman who has lived the fight, seen the journey over her life time.   When she quotes Zora Neale Hurston, she doesn’t do so out of the past, she does it out of her living presence of having known Hurston and experienced the shared racism that impacted both in America. 

Zora Neal Hurston said fear is the greatest emotion and I said, ‘No my dear sister.’ Fear will make us move to save our own skins.  Love also makes us save ourselves, but it will make us move to save others as well.

Sonia Sanchez

Sanchez was born in 1934 in Alabama.   In quick succession both her Mother and then Grandmother died and by age six she moved to Harlem with her Father who was a school teacher.  She attended New York University where she was mentored by Louis Bogan and where she would meet Amiri Baraka, Haki R Madhubuti and Etheridge Knight, whom she later married.  During the early 1960’s Sanchez was influenced by Malcom X and her work became more focused on developing Black Studies courses and particularly African American women’s literature’s courses that influenced Universities around the country to become more inclusive in their course offerings.   A playwright, poet, lecturer, educator and activist, Sanchez has had a remarkable career and influence on the growth of America through a unique lens, never straying from the distinct human concept of love. The TED talk below is definitely worth your time to hear Sonia tell it in her voice, as an elder, some things for us to consider as we chart our path to a better today and tomorrow. 


In researching this blog entry on Sonia Sanchez, I went back to look at her mentor, Louise Bogan’s work.   The title Elders, jumped out at me and I was instantly attracted to the poem below.  Of course the poem is about Elderberry bushes, or, maybe it isn’t?  Read it twice through aloud.  First time associate in your mind the word elders as a bush.  The second time through,  put yourself in Sonia Sanchez’s place on the TED stage, read it from her perspective, as an elder, from Louise Bogan’s perspective, as an elder.   How does the poem change in your mind?  Which version of the word elder delivered more of a punch? 


by Louise Bogan

At night the moon shakes the bright dice of the water;
And the elders, their flower light as broken snow upon the
          . .   bush, 

Repeat the circle of the moon. 

Within the month
Black fruit breaks from the white flower
The black wheeled berries turn
Weighing the boughs over the road,
There is no harvest.
Heavy to withering, the black wheels bend
Ripe for the mouths of chance lovers,
or birds,

       . Twigs show again in the quick cleavage of season and
      .             . season.
      .  The elder’s sag over the powdery road-bank,
      .  As though they bore, and it were too much,
     .  The seed of the year beyond the year. 



You Have NOTHING To Fear

 “I find myself filled to the beautiful brim with love, and with this shared love I continue to live my poem-life.”

Ted Joans

The Truth

by Ted Joans (1928 – 2003)
If you should see
a man
walking down a crowded street
talking aloud
to himself
don’t run
in the opposite direction
but run toward him
for he is a POET!
You have NOTHING to fear
from the poet
but the TRUTH

Ted Joans was a painter, trumpeter, and a jazz poet.  He published a number of books of poetry, all with his trademark collage creations on the cover.    He was an original jazz poet, bringing his spoken word poetry to the stage with jazz Musicians in New York City.   Like many black poets and jazz musicians of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, he grew tired of the systemic racism in the United States and left to travel the world.   He lived in West Africa and Europe, while only sporadically returning to the U. S for the last third of his life.   He died in Toronto, Canada. 

At his height of his influence in the 1960’s he rubbed shoulders with Jack Kerouac, Malcom X, Wifredo Lam and other influential civil rights leaders and beat poets.   The most often cited quote of Joans’ is “Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view.”   When Charlie Parker died in 1955, Joans is the one credited with scrawling “Bird Lives!” all over lower Manhattan.  Joans believed in the power of poetry to change people’s perspective and change the world.   He wrote poetry from the view point of a loving revolutionary, focused on the dream of Black empowerment and a better more just future.   

It is unfortunate there is a typo on his name on the video below, but it is a great watch.   Check it out if want to see him with all his beauty and swagger.


Uh Huh

by Ted Joans

There it is
yup                     uh huh
that’s it no doubt about it
uh huh
that’s it
yes sires
Man this it it
the real thing
uh huh
no shit
here uh huh
no lies now
here it is
the real bit
uh huh
a fact
yep yep
right before the eyes
a truth
uh huh
well I be damn
here uh huh now this is it  Uh Huh uh huhuh huh uh

Let It Be Tenderness

Amiri Baraka (1934 – 2014)

Art is what ever makes you proud to be a human.

Amiri Baraka

Like Rousseau

by Amiri Baraka
She stands beside me, stands away,   
the vague indifference
of her dreams. Dreaming, to go on,   
and go on there, like animals fleeing   
the rise of the earth. But standing   
intangible, my lust a worked anger
a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.
Then back off, and where you go? Box of words   
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.   
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.   
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.   
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,   
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.   
Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.   
They wait and touch and watch their dreams   
eat the morning.

Amiri Baraka writing and politics were not always controversial.  Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey in 1934.  After several years in college, he spent three years in the Air Force during the Korean War.  When he fulfilled his military service, he returned to New York City and attended Columbia University.   It was there that his journey as a poet began.   
Baraka’s legacy as a writer, critic, playwright, novelist and publisher is complicated.  He is less remembered for his well crafted beat poetry published under LeRoi Jones early in his career, while living in Greenwich Village and more remembered as a controversial, thought provoking, Black Nationalist during the civil rights movement and beyond, published under Amiri Baraka.  Baraka would visit Cuba in 1959 and would return an unapologetic Marxist.  Following the death of Malcolm X, he would take his writing to a new level of political intensity that empowered many and angered a few.  Baraka’s intent was to move people to action through his art and both responses seemed aligned with his purpose. 
Baraka’s greatest influence as a writer came in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, though he continued to write and perform up until his death in 2014.  Baraka was a friend of Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara and other beat writers in the 1950’s.  Baraka was a jazz poet and a scholar and music critic of both jazz and blues. The video below, shot a few years before his death is a great example of his vibrant style in combining his art, love of music and politics and the power of all three to improve the human condition.

A Short Speech To My Friends (Excerpt)

by Amiri Baraka
A political art, let it be
tenderness, low strings the fingers
touch, or the width of autumn
climbing wider avenues, among the virtue
and dignity of knowing what city
you’re in, who to talk to, what clothes
—even what buttons—to wear. I address
                                                                        / the society
                                                                        the image, of
                                                                        common utopia.
                                                                        / The perversity
                                                                        of separation, isolation,
after so many years of trying to enter their kingdoms,
now they suffer in tears, these others, saxophones whining
through the wooden doors of their less than gracious homes.
The poor have become our creators. The black. The thoroughly
                  Let the combination of morality
and inhumanity

Give Us Comfort Through The Lonely Dark

Emancipation Memorial, Washington D. C.

The past is for most Americans, unfortunately, rather meaningless…”

Robert Hayden

(An Excerpt)

by Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1852 – 1916)
To-day, O martyred chief, beneath the sun
We would unveil thy form; to thee who won
Th’applause of nations for thy soul sincere,
A loving tribute we would offer here.
’T was thine not worlds to conquer, but men’s hearts;
To change to balm the sting of slavery’s darts;
In lowly charity thy joy to find,
And open “gates of mercy on mankind.”
And so they come, the freed, with grateful gift,
From whose sad path the shadows thou didst lift.


The poem, Lincoln by Ray, was read during the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial, on the eleventh anniversary of Lincoln’s death in 1876. Frederick Douglass presided and delivered an oration worthy of the occasion. The problem with monuments, is they don’t move over time, they stand still.  Undoubtedly today, the depiction would be different, and maybe that is reason alone for why it should come down and be replaced by something else.  At the time it was a memorial largely paid for by funds from former slaves.  A monument, well crafted by Thomas Bell with good intentions, it is still the artistic vision of a white man, possibly another good reason to take it down.   It doesn’t matter that at it’s unveiling it was well received by a crowd of 25,000, with President Ulysses S. Grant in attendance, nor fine words were said by esteemed statesman of varied ethnicity, sometimes we just have to use our eyes of the present and see the awkwardness of the past and accept that possibly we need to give way to a new monument, one crafted by an artist with a different view point, one whose vision might help bring us all together, with equity, into a new future, standing side by side. The monument is still located in Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, though it was rotated slightly east, from its original perch, to gaze upon another memorial, that of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune,  as if that modest change would ease the disquiet of our inner voice that says, “something’s not right.”   

It is why I have chosen a different oration by Fredrick Douglas to share today, not the one he delivered at the unveiling of this memorial.  Below is an excerpt from his speech on July 4th, 1852, which he titled “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”.  Delivered nine years before the start of the Civil War, it is a remarkable dissection of the hypocrisy of America’s democracy and our tendency towards patriotism with blinders on, a blindness to only those parts of our democracy that we feel suit our own selfish interests, with well paid lobbyists and high tech gerrymandering to insure one side wins and the other side loses.  It is a remarkable speech,  as relevant today as the day it was delivered given the events of this past week on Capitol Hill.  Here is portions of Frederick Douglass’ speech in 1852. 


….Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it….Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the second of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it.

[We] solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be [totally] dissolved.

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history —the very ring—bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost….

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times…..

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember also that as a people Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait—perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

Trust no future, however pleasant, Let the dead past bury its dead; Act, act in the living present, Heart within, and God overhead.

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors….  The righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout —”We have Washington to our father.”—Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft’ interred with their bones.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him?….

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin!….

Frederick Douglas, July 4th, 1852. 

Douglass Poem

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

Ah, Douglass, we have fall’n on evil days,
Such days as thou, not even thou didst know,
When thee, the eyes of that harsh long ago
Saw, salient, at the cross of devious ways,
And all the country heard thee with amaze.
Not ended then, the passionate ebb and flow,
The awful tide that battled to and fro;
We ride amid a tempest of dispraise.

Now, when the waves of swift dissension swarm,
And Honour, the strong pilot, lieth stark,
Oh, for thy voice high-sounding o’er the storm,
For thy strong arm to guide the shivering bark,
The blast-defying power of thy form,
To give us comfort through the lonely dark.

I Know My Soul

Terrance Hayes

“If you think a hammer is the only way to hammer / A nail, you ain’t thought of the nail correctly.”

Terrance Hayes

I See A Part And Not The Whole

by Claude McKay

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin
[“Inside me is a black-eyed animal”]

by Terrance Hayes

Inside me is a black-eyed animal
Bracing in a small stall. As if a bird
Could grow without breaking its shell.
As if the clatter of a thousand black
Birds whipping in a storm could be held
In a shell. Inside me is a huge black
Bull balled small enough to fit inside
The bead of a nipple ring. I mean to leave
A record of my raptures. I was raised
By a beautiful man. I loved his grasp of time.
My mother shaped my grasp of space.
Would you rather spend the rest of eternity
With your wild wings bewildering a cage or
With your four good feet stuck in a plot of dirt?

That’s All That I Remember

El-hajj Malik El-shabazz (Malcolm X)

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

Malcolm X

El-hajj Malik El-shabazz (Malcolm X)

by Robert Hayden

O masks and metamorphoses of Ahab, Native Son


The icy evil that struck his father down
and ravished his mother into madness
trapped him in violence of a punished self
struggling to break free.

As Home Boy, as Dee-troit Red,
he fled his name, became the quarry of
his own obsessed pursuit.

He conked his hair and Lindy-hopped,
zoot-suited jiver, swinging those chicks
in the hot rose and reefer glow.

His injured childhood bullied him.
He skirmished in the Upas trees
and cannibal flowers of the American Dream–

but could not hurt the enemy
powered against him there.

As much as America is divided there is one thing that unites us currently in a troubling way – anger.  Anger seems to abound on all sides of the political spectrum in ways not seen since the 1960’s.  I think many of us that tread somewhere more centrist in the political realm are growing alarmed at the widening gap of hostility between the right and the left.  

I find it disturbing that wrapped within the current GOP rhetoric of absolving Trump of guilt in the impeachment trial for the insurrection at the Capitol is this tit for tat argument on the equivalency around the violence of the Black Lives Movement in cities across America this past summer.  It’s like GOP pundits believe one justifies the other.   I see no such equivalency, despite my community being directly impacted by the terrible violence last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death.  There is a darker side to that violence that is getting very little press; the fact that numerous indictments have been handed down in Minneapolis to white supremacists from outside the local community, some from outside the state, who used the cover of the George Floyd protests in the days following his death to cause anarchy, increase the level of violence and damage, and steal with impunity. 

Embedded within the tragedy of what happened in Minneapolis, is the fact that there was a highly coordinated right wing anarchist component that only wanted to enhance the violence for their own purposes; to confuse, to radicalize the right and justify their actions, like the attack on the capitol in January.   It feels like there is a coordinated media response within right wing politics to incite their base by playing the fools game of who committed the greater wrong.  It’s a game no one wins.  

What continues to be so troubling for me around Trumpism, is the inability of the GOP mainstream to stand up to the racist attitudes that are fueling some members of their caucus with conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality.  Conspiracy theories that dehumanize their opposition to give credence to their hate.  It’s one of the reasons I think poetry can be an important tool in this discussion in America, particularly  angry poetry.  Poetry that speaks of perspectives that make white Americans uncomfortable may be an easier entry into a broader discussion on things that make all of us uncomfortable.  For equity to progress, we must move beyond conversations that dwell on the fringes of both sides, and  address the causes of the anger, without losing sight of each other’s humanity or what profoundly limiting lessons our children learn from hate. 


by Countee Cullen

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.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
.    . From May until December:
Of all the things that happened there
.    . That’s all that I remember.