by Gwendolyn Brooks

Page 5

I want to share with you a poem called "The Near Johannesburg Boy." The titling of this poem is strategic. This boy can't live in Johannesburg. I decided to write this poem when I found myself hearing on T.V. that little black children in South Africa were meeting in the road and saying to each other, "Have you been detained yet?" I thought that was truly appalling. It meant, I believe, that they are feeling now that being imprisoned is equivalent to playing ball or whatever games they have time for over there. So I decided to empathize with one of those young blacks. And I was really rewarded, I don't know how some of you poets feel about being rewarded. It's not necessary. You don't have to be rewarded for writing a poem, but I was very pleased in a kind of grim way when I read this poem at the James Madison University and a young fellow from South Africa said that his brother was imprisoned waiting to be executed and his father had been killed, and shortly after that, his mother had died, and he was quite tearful, as he said to me about the boy in this poem, "I am that boy."

My way is from woe to wonder.
A Black by near Johannesburg, hot
in the Hot Time.

Those people
do not like Black among the colors.
They do not like our
calling our country ours.
They say our country is not ours.

Those people.
Visiting the world as I visit the world.
Those people.
Their bleach is puckered and cruel.
It is work to speak of my Father. My Father.
His body was whole till they Stopped it.
With a short shot.
But, before that, physically tall and among us,
he died every day. Every moment.
My Father....
First was the crumpling.
No. First was the Fist-and-the-Fury.
Last was the crumpling. It is
a little used rag that is Under, it is not,
it is not my Father gone down.

About my Mother. My Mother
was this loud laugher
below the sunshine, below the starlight at festival.
My Mother is still this loud laugher!
Still straight in the Getting-It-Done (as she names
Oh a strong eye is my Mother.
Except when it seems we are lax in our looking.

Well, enough of slump, enough of Old Story.
Like a clean spear of fire
I am moving. I am not still. I am ready
to be ready.
I shall flail
in the Hot Time.

Tonight I walk with
a hundred of playmates to where
the hurt Black of our skin is forbidden.
There, in the dark that is our dark, there,
a-pulse across earth that is our earth, there,
there exulting, there Exactly, there redeeming, there
     Roaring Up
(oh my Father)
we shall forge with the Fist-and-the-Fury:
we shall flail in the Hot Time:
we shall
we shall

There's no punctuation at the end. "We Real Cool":

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

  previous page
next page
table of contents
search the archives

  Titanic Operas Main Page
Copyright 1999 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney  <rnmooney@umd.edu>
Last updated on March 10, 2008
Dickinson Electronic Archives