by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Tomorrow is the 4th of July, the Independence Day of the United States of America. This will not be a Fourth as usual. Many of us will be spending it inside our homes, waiting for it to be safe to venture out again, but knowing that the number of Covid-19 cases, and the number of dead are going up, not down.
So these words of Thomas Paine take on a newer meaning:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered . . .”
#BlackLivesMatter has become a global movement, so these words from Paine should be considered by those who still cling to a past that never was as they imagine:
“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”
“He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.”
I look at the world
by Langston Hughes
I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.
“I Look at the World” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes – Knopf and Vintage Books
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was born in Joplin Missouri. American poet-author-playwright, social activist, novelist, and columnist. After working his way to Europe as a ship’s crewman, he spent time in Paris, and London, then returned to the states, spending time in Washington DC, where he met Vachel Lindsay, who helped him gain recognition. He became one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.
The Sign in My Father’s Hands
by Martin Espada
—for Frank Espada
The beer company
did not hire Blacks or Puerto Ricans,
so my father joined the picket line
at the Schaefer Beer Pavilion, New York World’s Fair,
amid the crowds glaring with canine hostility.
But the cops brandished nightsticks
and handcuffs to protect the beer,
and my father disappeared.
In 1964, I had never tasted beer,
and no one told me about the picket signs
torn in two by the cops of brewery.
I knew what dead was: dead was a cat
overrun with parasites and dumped
in the hallway incinerator.
I knew my father was dead.
I went mute and filmy-eyed, the slow boy
who did not hear the question in school.
I sat studying his framed photograph
like a mirror, my darker face.
Days later, he appeared in the doorway
grinning with his gilded tooth.
Not dead, though I would come to learn
that sometimes Puerto Ricans die
in jail, with bruises no one can explain
swelling their eyes shut.
I would learn too that “boycott”
is not a boy’s haircut,
that I could sketch a picket line
on the blank side of a leaflet.
That day my father returned
from the netherworld
easily as riding the elevator to apartment 14-F,
and the brewery cops could only watch
in drunken disappointment.
I searched my father’s hands
for a sign of the miracle.
“The Sign in My Father’s Hands” from Imagine the Angels of Bread, © 1996 by Martin Espada – W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Martin Espada (1957 – ) was born in Brooklyn New York, where his father was a leader in the Puerto Rican community and the civil rights movement. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northeastern University in Boston. For many years, he was a tenant lawyer and supervisor of a legal services program. In 1982, Espada published his first book of political poems, The Immigrant Iceboy’s Bolero, featuring photography by his father. It was followed by thirteen more volumes of poetry, including Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction; City of Coughing and Dead Radiators; A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen; and Vivia to Those Who Have Failed. In 2018, he was honored with the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement.
by Claude McKay
Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.
“White Houses” from Harlem Shadows © 1922 by Claude McKay, reprinted in 2018 by Martino Fine Books
Claude McKay (1889-1948) was born in Jamaica; Jamaican-American poet, author and social activist; prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance; best known for his novel, Home to Harlem, which won the 1928 Harmon Gold Award for Literature. He wrote six novels, a collection of short stories, one non-fiction work, and two autobiographies, in addition to publishing six collections of poetry, including Songs of Jamaica, Spring in New Hampshire, and Harlem Shadows. McKay joined the Industrial Workers of the World in autumn 1919, while working in a factory following his time as a dining-car waiter on the railways. He says in his autobiography, A Long Way from Home, that he was drawn to the Communist party because it seemed to offer independence, but became frustrated by its bias toward Negro Communists and independent thought, and ultimately left the party. In the 1940s, he converted to Catholicism, and left Harlem to work for a Catholic organization. He died in Chicago, in May 1948, of a heart attack.
by Tato Laviera
for liberty, your day filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor, nineteen eighty-six,
midnight sky, fireworks splashing,
into radiant bouquets,
wall street a backdrop of centennial adulation,
computerized capital angling cameras
celebrating the international symbol of freedom
stretched across micro-chips,
wall-to-wall people, sailing ships,
gliding armies ferried
in pursuit of happiness, constitution adoration,
packaged television channels for liberty,
celebrated in the name of democratic principles,
god bless america, land of the star
that we love,
but the symbol suffered
one hundred years of decay
climbing up to the spined crown,
the fractured torch hand,
the ruptured intestines,
palms blistered and calloused,
feet embroidered in rust,
the lady’s eyes,
cataract filled, exposed
to sun and snow, a salty wind,
discolored verses staining her robe,
she needed re-molding, re-designing,
the decomposed body
now melted down for souvenirs,
lungs and limbs jailed
in scaffolding of ugly cubicles
incarcerating the body
as she prepared to receive
her twentieth-century transplant
paid for by pitching pennies,
hometown chicken barbecues,
marathons on america’s main streets.
she heard the speeches:
the french and american partners,
the nation believed in her, rooted for the queen,
and lady liberty decided to reflect
on lincoln’s emancipatory resoluteness
on washington’s patriotism,
on jefferson’s lucidity,
on william jennings bryan’s socialism,
on woodrow wilson’s league of nations,
on roosevelt’s new deal,
on kennedy’s ecumenical postures,
and on martin luther king’s non-violence.
lady liberty decided to reflect
on lillian wald’s settlements,
on helen keller’s sixth sense,
on susan b. anthony’s suffrage movement,
on mother cabrini’s giving soul,
on harriet tubman’s stubborn pursuit of freedom.
just before she was touched,
just before she was dismantled,
lady liberty spoke,
she spoke for the principles,
for the preamble,
for the bill of rights,
and thirty-nine peaceful
and, just before she was touched,
lady liberty wanted to convey
her own resolutions,
her own bi-centennial goals,
so that in twenty eighty-six,
she would be smiling and she would be proud.
and then, just before she was touched,
and then, while she was being re-constructed,
and then, while she was being celebrated,
if you touch me, touch ALL of my people
who need attention and societal repair,
give the tired and the poor
the same attention, AMERICA,
touch us ALL with liberty,
touch us ALL with liberty.
hunger abounds, our soil is plentiful,
our technology advanced enough
to feed the world,
to feed humanity’s hunger . . .
but let’s celebrate not our wealth,
not our sophisticated defense,
not our scientific advancements,
not our intellectual adventures.
let us concentrate on our weaknesses,
on our societal needs,
for we will never be free
if indeed freedom is subjugated
to trampling upon people’s needs.
this is a warning,
my beloved america.
so touch me,
and in touching me
touch all our people.
do not single me out,
touch all our people,
touch all our people,
all our people
and then i shall truly enjoy
my day, filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor,
nineteen eighty-six, midnight sky,
into radiant bouquets,
celebrating in the name of equality,
in the pursuit of happiness,
god bless america,
land of star
that we love.
“lady liberty” from Benedición: The Complete Poetry of Tato Laviera, © 2014 by Tato Laviera – Arte Público Press
Tato Laviera (1950=2013) was born Jesús Laviera Sanches, in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and moved with his family to New York City at the age of ten. He became a best-selling poet and playwright. Laviera was a human rights activist, and involved in social and community work, but was best known as a leading Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) poet. Tato Laviera died from complications of diabetes at age 63.
To Change the World Enough
by Alice Walker
To change the world enough
you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth’s reckoning;
no longer far
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us
“To Change the World Enough” © 2014 by Alice Walker, from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database
Alice Walker (1944 – ) African American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist; best known as the author of The Color Purple, which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
For the Consideration of Poets
by Haki R. Madhubuti
where is the poetry of resistance,
the poetry of honorable defiance
unafraid of lies from career politicians and business men,
not respectful of journalist who write
official speak void of educated thought
without double search or sub surface questions
that war talk demands?
where is the poetry of doubt and suspicion
not in the service of the state, bishops and priests,
not in the service of beautiful people and late night promises,
not in the service of influence, incompetence and academic
“For the Consideration of Poets” from Run Toward Fear, © 2004 by Haki R. Madhubuti – Third World Press
Haki R. Madhubuti (1942 – ) was born Don Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is an African-American author, educator, and poet, as well as a publisher and bookstore owner. He chose his name in Swahili in 1974 after visiting Africa. Haki means “justice,” and Madhubuti means “precise and dependable.” His two major poetry collections are GroundWork and HeartLove.