I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
I have met them at close of day
Blood on the night soil man en route to the country prison
Blood on the sullen chair, the one that holds you with its pleasure
Blood inside the quartz, the beauty watch, the eye of the guard
Blood on the slope of names & the tattoos hidden
Blood on the Virgin, behind the veils,
Behind — in the moon angel's gold oracle hair
What blood is this, is it the blood of the worker rat?
Is it the blood of the clone governor, the city maid?
Why does it course in s's & z's?
Sometimes I think about Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of his life, except
when he traveled without his white wife to visit his siblings —
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA — just as pale-skinned,
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul, and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’ t say that he was black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other than white?
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’ s road will you expel tonight?
Those “Fabrics of Cashmere — ” “to make Me beautiful — ”
“Trinket” — to gem — “Me to adorn — How tell” — tonight?
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates —
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’ s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar —
All the archangels — their wings frozen — fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’ t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Professional Middle-class Couple, 1927 by August Sander
What justifies the inequality
That issues her a tastefully square-cut
Ruby for her finger, him a suit
Whose rumpled, unemphatic dignity
Declares a life of working sitting down,
While someone in a sweatshop has to squint
And palsy sewing, and a continent
Sheds blood to pry the gemstone from the ground,
Could not be justice. Nothing but the use
To which they put prosperity can speak
In their defense: the faces money makes,
He started with the tune his mother had hummed
in Ohio, nostalgia he’ d carried for years,
and by Sunday afternoon he had the words.
A triumph, already; he whistled the banjo’ s part.
(Himself a sympathizer from the North,
called copperhead, called traitor by his own kin.)
Something lively, some git-up-and-git they’ d wanted
and didn’ t he deliver —
Miss Susan got seven encores the first night.
That gave them their tune, their Negro walk-around —
We were a Colored Clan of Kinfolk
Who threw soilnot salt
Over our shoulders
Who tendered close the bible
Who grew and passed around the almanac at night
So we would know
What to plant at first light
Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
Are you not also a man, and in your heart
Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
Do you not think of yourself as usual,
Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
The lions who ate the Christians on the sands of the arena
By indulging native appetites played what has now been seen a
Not entirely negligible part
In consolidating at the very start
The position of the Early Christian Church.
Initiatory rites are always bloody
And the lions, it appears
From contemporary art, made a study
Of dyeing Coliseum sands a ruddy
Liturgically sacrificial hue
And if the Christians felt a little blue —
Well people being eaten often do.