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

Harlem needed
         to smash



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

    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.


    • 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,


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