No Velvet and No Velvety Velour

Gwendolyn Brooks.jpg
Gwendolyn Brooks

What Shall I Give My Children

by Gwendolyn Brooks

What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour,
Crying that they are quasi, contraband
Because unfinished, graven by a hand
Less than angelic, admirable or sure.

My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.
But I lack access to my proper stone
And plenitude of plan shall not suffice
Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing everywhere .


It’s Ground Hog Day.   A perfectly silly tradition with no less than pomp and circumstance surrounding the formal process of observing Punxsutawney Phil either see or not see his shadow.  I think the Pennsylvania Dutch who came up with this quaint tradition were suffering from vitamin D deficiency at this point in the winter and couldn’t think straight, because I have always thought they got it mixed up.  If the ground-hog sees his shadow and retreats to his burrow, (is it because he is afraid of his shadow?), then its six more weeks of winter, but if it’s cloudy and he ventures out then spring will arrive early. Doesn’t it make more sense if the sun is out that spring is coming early? In Minnesota, only six more weeks of winter, means spring has arrived way early. So I guess according to this tradition we’re a winner winner, chicken dinner no matter which way things go down with Mr P. Phil Ground Hog today.

It is a pleasure to revisit Gwendolyn Brooks at the start of Black History month. I love the playfulness in the word selection of Brooks’ poetry, even in the most serious of subject matters. It creates an odd tension, a contradiction that conveys a complexity. In the sonnet this playfulness says to me that being poor is not one thing, and not all bad, but that her “little halves”  are whole people who still know the feel of velvet. As a friend of mine reminds me it’s not a crime to be poor. Although we treat it as such sometimes with ways we penalize those without adequate means.

I was tempted to share Brooks’ poem “The Boy Died In My Alley” as it fits the Ground Hog Day theme of repetition, from the Bill Murray film by the same name. Brooks’ captures in that poem the senselessness of gun violence in our communities that is no different today than when she wrote the poem. Gun violence is a scourge in our country in all our communities, not just communities of color. But I decided against it. We’re all a little short of vitamin D after being cooped up for several weeks of cold weather, we may not be thinking straight, so let’s think about love instead. Better to be confused by love than anything else. Valentines Day is right around the corner and it’s not too late to make a date and ask that someone out who already has your heart or maybe has just caught your eye.


To Be In Love

by Gwendolyn Brooks

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.