by Gwendolyn Brooks

Page 4

In honor of black men, I'm not going to offer "Ballad of Pearl May Lee" because black men have really been getting a pounding of late. And there have been features on T.V. directed at their villainy, their lax, their losses, their lunacy. I just decided not to add to it here. I want to say I had a wonderful black father and I grew up on a street of wonderful black families where the fathers worked and then came home and had dinner. I hope this doesn't sound absolutely remarkable to you. But my father would come home and have dinner. It was about six o'clock, and we would sit down at the table--my brother, my mother, my father and I--and we would talk about what had happened during the day. My father had the sweetest smile and the warmest deep voice that I have ever heard. After dinner, he might recite poetry to us or we might group around (if you read the papers today, I know you're not going to believe this), we might group around my mother, who would play the piano while the rest of us sang. And she sang too in her lovely soprano voice. It was a very happy black household, a very rich, black family life that I came from and I'm happy to salute it. Here's a poem, a sonnet, in a series called "The Children of the Poor." Five sonnets in that series, but I'm just going to offer the fourth one, the one that has resulted in many people considering me the Ma Barker of the late sixties. Anybody who knows anything about the late sixties in Chicago knows that is such a strange assumption. But this poem has frequently been called "militant." That is a word that covers a variety of virtues and villainies.

First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
With hurting love; the music that they wrote
Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
For the dear instrument to bear. Devote
The bow to silks and honey. Be remote
A while from malice and from murdering.
But first to arms, to armour. Carry hate
In front of you and harmony behind.
Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
For having first to civilize a space
Wherein to play your violin with grace.

Now that's my heroine, Annie Allen, thinking about her children and wondering what she can do to validate them, to send them out into the world enweaponed (of course that's a bad word to use, enweaponed). And of course she's probably going to do what my mother did, take them to the Art Institute and see that they have piano lessons. My mother saw that I had piano lessons until I had passed the third year, and she could tell not much was going to come of it, and she let me go. But still, there is that wonderment about how much any of this is doing to strengthen children. And I will read a nice happy woman-oriented poem. All of these things seem to, well not all, "To Black Women" might have been an exception, but the others do seem to speak for not just the woman but for the whole family unit, or in this case, for a couple. It's a familiar poem to those of you who have been listening to me over the decades: "when you have forgotten Sunday, the love story." I guess there's still love in the world. Young people listening to me reading this poem start snickering, and they put their hands up, "Listen to that old woman up there talking about love, romantic love. She knows that's all in the past." Well, I must have been involved with that magic entity at one time in my life or I wouldn't have a son, 45, or a daughter, 34:

----And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes
     on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday--
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping
Looking off down the long street
To nowhere,
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I'm-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come--
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
that is to say, went across the front room floor to the
     ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies--
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
That the war would be over before they got to you;
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the
     light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Bright bedclothes,
Then gently folded into each other--
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
Then you may tell,
Then I may believe
You have forgotten me well.

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