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Black History Month, day 11

Joy and I once stayed in a great little B&B in Maryland whose rooms each had a literary theme. (We fantasize about running a place like this sometimes. We’d make it a mystery B&B, with rooms devoted to different authors and sprinkled with clues from their works. We will never do it in this lifetime, because nothing about running an inn appeals to us except brainstorming about how to decorate the rooms. I wonder where you get a Maltese Falcon?) Ours was the Langston Hughes Room: art deco furnishings, a big portrait of Hughes, and, since this is the Book Lovers’ B&B and they know rooms need books, books about Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. It’s a period I love: its music, poetry, and art. The rebirth of course points to a death and dearth that preceded it: who were the Duke Ellingtons, Langston Hugheses, and Romare Beardens of a generation earlier, whose work was never played or published or shown in a gallery?

Here are three poems from that great flowering of the 20s and 30s.

Angelina Grimke: Trees

God made them very beautiful, the trees:
He spoke and gnarled of bole or silken sleek
They grew; majestic bowed or very meek;
Huge-bodied, slim; sedate and full of glees.
And He had pleasure deep in all of these.
And to them soft and little tongues to speak
Of Him to us, He gave wherefore they seek
From dawn to dawn to bring unto our knees.
Yet here amid the wistful sounds of leaves,
A black-hued grewsome something swings and
Laughter it knew and joy in little things
Till man’s hate ended all. –And so man weaves.
And God, how slow, how very slow weaves He–
Was Christ Himself not nailed to a tree?

Countee Cullen: Incident

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.

Jean Toomer: Evening Song

Full moon rising on the waters of my heart,
Lakes and moon and fires,
Cloine tires,
Holding her lips apart.
Promises of slumber leaving shore to
charm the moon,
Miracle made vesper-keeps,
Cloine sleeps,
And I’ll be sleeping soon.
Cloine, curled like the sleepy waters
where the moonwaves start,
Radiant, resplendently she gleams,
Cloine dreams,
Lips pressed against my heart.

And that last one makes me have to leave my keyboard and go upstairs to look at my sleeping daughter.


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