Henry Dumas


Kef 24

lay sixteen bales down in front on the plank
let me set and bay at the houndog moon
lay sixteen bales down of the cotton flank
pray with me brothers that the pink
boss dont sweat me too soon
beat my leg in a round nigger peg
lord have mercy on my black pole
lay sixteen bales in the even row
let me sweat and cuss my roustabout tune
lord have mercy on my shrinkin back
let me go with the jesus mule
lay sixteen bales for the warp and loom
beat a nigger down and bury his soul
boss dont sweat me too soon

Knees of a Natural Man

my ole man took me to the fulton fish market
we walk around in the guts and the scales

my ole man show me a dead fish, eyes like throat spit
he say “you hongry boy?” i say “naw, not yet”

my ole man show me how to pick the leavings
he say people throw away fish that not rotten

we scaling on our knees back uptown on lenox
sold five fish, keepin one for the pot

my ole man copped a bottle of wine
he say, “boy, build me a fire out in the lot”

backyard cat climbin up my leg for fish
i make a fire in the ash can

Love Song

I have to adore the earth:

The wind must have heard
your voice once.
It echoes and sings like you.

The soil must have tasted
you once.
It is laden with your scent.

The trees honor you
in gold
and blush when you pass.

I know why the north country
is frozen.
It has been trying to preserve
your memory.

I know why the desert
burns with fever.
It was wept too long without you.

On hands and knees,
the ocean begs up the beach,
and falls at your feet.

The Zebra Goes Wild Where the Sidewalk Ends

Neon stripes tighten my wall
where my crayon landlord hangs
from a bent nail.

My black father sits crooked
in the kitchen
drunk on Jesus’ blood turned
to cheap wine.

In his tremor he curses
the landlord who grins
from inside the rent book.

My father’ s eyes are
bolls of cotton.

He sits upon the landlord’ s
operating table,
the needle of the nation
sucking his soul.