History Channel

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

Tulips Bloom from Youths’ Blood



It’s the season of wine, meadows, and Rose

The court of spring is cleared of choughs and crows

Generous clouds now water Rey[1] more freely than Khotan[2]

The caged bird and I both long for our own land


How wayward are you, Heaven!

How vicious are you, Heaven!

You’re headed to vengeance, O Heaven!

You have no faith

You have no creed—no creed

O Heaven!





For You Shall Be Called to Account

The ancestors of everyone I’ve let into my body

are gathered in a small room with one window,

no lights. Yes, the room is crowded. Yes, there

are no chairs. Yes, they are talking. Why are we

here, says the Nazi resister. Where are the chairs,

says the Viking (no horns). Where is the light, say

the people with their new French name hung

around their necks heavy like a long black cross.

Here, says the grand wizard, and a long white

A Hundred and Fifty Pounds

In some, the luggage lies open

like a mouth mid-sentence.

In others, closed zippers grimace:


What would you have brought?

Slippers, a stuffed platypus, a gold watch

on a chain, copper pots swaddled in bedding.


The hypotheses: that thinking

can be things, that each decision shrinks

the pained mind to the space


inside a suitcase. Include

lacquered chopsticks, silver forks,

a hammer scarred by rust, the orders


nailed to telephone poles and doors.

Through Time and Bitter Distance

Unknown to you, I walk the cheerless shore.

The cutting blast, the hurl of biting brine

May freeze, and still, and bind the waves at war,

Ere you will ever know, O! Heart of mine,

That I have sought, reflected in the blue

Of these sea depths, some shadow of your eyes;

Have hoped the laughing waves would sing of you,

But this is all my starving sight decries -




people arrived

people arrived from portugal. people arrived from africa. people arrived from

india. people arrived from england. people arrived from china. people

predated arrival. people fled predation. people were arrayed. people populated.

whips patterned rays into people. people arose. people rayed outward to

toronto, london, boo york. people raided people. people penned the past.

people roved over on planes. people talked over people. people rented places.

people planted people in people. people raided plantations. people prayed.

New Year

         Out of their torments men carved a flower

         which they perched on the high plateaus of their faces

         hunger makes a canopy for them

         an image dissolves in their last tear

         they drank foam rhythmed monsters

         to the point of ferocious horror

In those days

there was an



         on their hooves the horses were rearing a bit of dream

         fat fiery clouds filled out like mushrooms

On Seeing a Photograph of My Mother at St. Joseph Residential School for Girls

A black and white picture


The sun is shining through a window behind you


Your hair black short Your small brown hands folded neatly on a tiny wooden desk


Some of the girls in the picture are smiling You are not Your eyes staring into the camera Seem a million miles away


That stare I will see seldom and one day understand that storms begin millions of miles away

The Little Car

The 31st day of August 1914

I left Deauville a little before midnight

In Rouveyre’s little car


Counting his driver there were three of us


We said good-bye to an entire epoch

Furious giants were rising over Europe

Eagles were leaving their aeries expecting the sun

Voracious fish were rising from the depths

Populations were rushing to know each other intimately

Ex Libris

I come from the land of

Where You From?

My people dispossessed of their stories

and who have died again and again

in a minstrelsy of afterlives, wakes,

the dead who walk, waiting and

furrowed, like ivy crawling up


All those museums and mausoleums,

lifting languages from rivers.

But I cannot leave them

for the rugged North

nor the hot-blooded South south of us,

nor the untamed deltas

that plaster us to our jackets


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