Culture

10 Poems To Read And Enjoy Right Now

Thinking back on my slog through the Los Angeles Unified School District, there were a very few realities that kept me moving forward. One reality was that high school would eventually end. The number two bright spot illuminating my way through high school was the extraordinary literature I was being introduced to by some truly great English teachers. In seventh grade, along with Greek myths and a few Dorothy Parker stories, Langston Hughes was on the teaching plan.

Langston Hughes was the chronicler of African American life in Harlem, New York City, from the 1920s through the 1960s. Hughes set out to portray the stories of African-American life that represented their actual culture—including the piercing heartbreak and the joy of everyday life in Harlem.

Hughes listed Paul Laurence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his poetic influences, but the influence of jazz also found its way into Hughes’s work. Hughes’s recurring images and his innovative phrasing helped shape the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s: that time of tremendous creativity when African American arts flourished with Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston, among others.

After his death in 1967 from cancer, the home of Langston Hughes, located at 20 East 127th Street, was given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street goes by the name of “Langston Hughes Place.”

My People

The night is beautiful,

So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Kids Who Die

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As  Always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.

Suicide’s Note

The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
Her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.

Come with a blast of trumpets,
Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.

Blow trumpets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

Sweet silver trumpets,
Jesus!

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Evil

Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effects on you—
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.

American Heartbreak

I am the American heartbreak—
Rock on which Freedom
Stumps its toe—
The great mistake
That Jamestown
Made long ago.

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
(To W.E.B. DuBois)

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 bosom
turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

 

____________________

The work of Langston Hughes is in the public domain.




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