Harlem summer

—for James Baldwin

on the twenty-ninth of July, 1943
         —your father died.
         —his last child was born.

his funeral
         was your nineteenth birthday
         Harlem exploded, a wilderness
         of splintered plate glass

the journey to the graveyard
         was a black-hearse silence
         in the unquiet
         the ruined streets

see him even now: a dark deep face
         in the window
         betrayed by children
         reaching toward the world

the streets swelled like a boil
         people moving in every direction
         against you, every face white
         gleaming in the night

a big-bellied man grabbed you
         began to beat you
         you kicked him and he went down
         your friend in your ear: “Run!”

it would have been better
         to have left the glass
         in the windows
         it would have been
         intolerable

Harlem needed
         something
         to smash

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3 Comments

Filed under General musings

3 responses to “Harlem summer

  1. Tony

    Here’s my own turkey poem!

    Wild Turkeys, Roosting

    Before I could finish a sentence — had
    there been one — I heard
    the sound of wings, a burst through
    foliage, above & to the right
    at the hill’s crest, & then the bird’s body,
    too heavy to be a hawk,
    — I swear it had haunches, was bomber-shaped —
    riding ponderously in the November
    silence higher than I’d thought
    possible

    into the afternoon light,
    high as its heft would let it

    the wingburst heavy, clumsy,
    long gone by the time I reached
    a clearing where months before James Robtoy laid down
    deep skidder tracks. Then
    it was gone, & a silence fell, rained
    through hemlock,
    the shadows of dusk flowing uphill —
    inky rivulets that reached
    the torn-out stumps & hilltop blowdowns
    not much later:
    and then I heard the birds

    six, seven more at roost (in the high, thin branches)

    & saw their crooked necks — vulture necks —
    and them peering down at me, grim, pilgrim-like,
    & I recognized their shape
    & knew a name for it.

    Tony

    • Thanks, Tony, thanks very much. I love the turkey poem, its sparity and precision. I’ve been in the woods in those dusks, known the experience you’re describing so well. And those lines: “silence fell, rained / through hemlock, / the shadows of dusk flowing uphill – / inky rivulets that reached / the torn-out stumps & hilltop blowdowns” — they’re exquisite! Take a look at my “Raven & Peregrine” poem if you have a chance — it might strike a common chord.

      I’ve sent both your comment and your poem over to Tracey’s blog, because I don’t know if she’ll see them here. But I’ve also kept them here because I like the poem so much.

  2. Tony

    Hey Tracy and Nick —

    Had a great time tonight.

    Super poem — inspired by the greatest essay ever written.

    Hope you read it Friday night.

    And what a beautiful essay, the one on wild turkeys, Tracey! (I’ll read the other in the morning.)

    best to both of you,

    Tony

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