Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

Here in my neighborhood, in the wake of another shooting of a Black man, choppers circle nightly, protests happen nightly, and stores and restaurants keep their window plywood boards on standby.

Tension runs high. I scan the streets for cars and trucks with out of state plates driving erratically, zipping the wrong way down my one-way street, the way they did a year ago, when under cover of darkness men searched through our gardens for incendiaries planted earlier.

There’s plenty of racism to go around in Minnesota and there are also nationwide white supremacy groups happy to help the movement. I loved Langston Hughes’s poems as a child and I love them still. Last night I walked past a SWAT car filled with police officers at the end of my block and thought of this poem.

 

I, too, sing America
     – Langston Hughes

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
when company comes,
but I laugh,
and eat well,
and grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
when company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
then.

Besides, they’ll see how beautiful
I am
and be ashamed–

I, too, am America.


For more information about Langston Hughes, please click here.

alisonmcghee.com

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

My family is multiracial so these latest murders, of eight Asian Americans in Atlanta by yet another white guy with a Hitler haircut, feel more personal to me, more terrifying, right? Wrong. The idea that it’s on Asian Americans and their families to speak out against hatred is as exhausting as being the lone woman in a roomful of men trying to explain to them what sexism is. It is not my responsibility or my family’s responsibility to take a stand against these hate crimes, it’s everyone’s responsibility.

You know that phrase you still see here and there, If you see something, say something? Flip it around and use it for good. Fellow white people, I ask you to practice putting it to use in your own life. When you hear someone (including someone you love) make a “joke” or a remark with racist overtones, practice saying “Oh, I’m not comfortable with that.”

Do it in a way that works for you and your personality. I usually smile-grimace and squinch up my shoulders and say “oh yikes, no no no.” In my experience, this is surprisingly effective. It works for anti-gay and anti-women “jokes” too. Check out this perfect tiny tutorial by the wonderful Linda Sue Park for more tips. Remember that baby steps are still steps.


Freedom, by Langston Hughes

Freedom will not come
today, this year
            nor ever
through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
as the other fellow has
            to stand
on my two feet
and own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
            Freedom
            is a strong seed
            planted
            in a great need.
            I live here, too.
            I want my freedom
            just as you.  

For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.

alisonmcghee.com
Words by Winter: my new podcast

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

My new poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

IMG_0695From my porch, which is all windows, people walk by in pairs or threes or solo. Some of them stop by my poetry hut and take a poem. Some keep their heads down and never look up. Some are slow and wandery, holding hands and scuffing their feet. Others stare straight ahead and laugh while they chatter to the person on the other end of their earbuds.

I picture them all at home before they headed out into the day, brushing their teeth, turning sideways, appraising themselves. Maybe they smiled into the mirror. Maybe they didn’t. What was in their minds and on their hearts? It feels to me that there are deep wells inside each of us that can’t ever be reached, of unanswered questions and secret happinesses, of loneliness. This tiny poem sings itself through me every day.

 

 

Hope, by Langston Hughes

Sometimes when I’m lonely,
don’t know why,
keep thinkin’ I won’t be lonely
by and by.

 

 

For more information about Langston Hughes, please click here.

 

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Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

img_0494Quite a year we just had. A year that drove that poor little garden gnome in the photo on the right to drink, not to mention me with my cabinet full of gin. So many poems feel like possibilities to greet the new year, but this one by Langston Hughes feels the most possible. It’s strange, because if asked I would never list Langston Hughes on my Favorite Poet list, but lines from his poems come drifting through my mind almost every day. Like this one: Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams go, life is a barren field frozen with snow. And this one: They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed– I, too, am America. And this one: I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. And most of all, I see that my own hands can make the world that’s in my mind. Goodbye, 2016. Here’s to the baby new year.

I look at the world
     – 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.

For more information about Langston Hughes, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

IMG_4736I’ve sat in silent, exhausted rage around dinner tables listening to men and women argue about rape and which factors that lead up to it are under a woman’s control. Sometimes I leave the room and go into the kitchen to bang my head against a hot stove, because that feels better than listening to good men, many of whom I like and respect, explain with care and patience how women shouldn’t get so drunk, especially late at night, how they shouldn’t walk alone, shouldn’t wear certain outfits, that it just is not safe, how they wish so much the world wasn’t like that for women, but it is. What a revelation, I think, thanks for solving that whole rape thing.

We have a rape problem because men rape women. That’s where the conversation begins. How do you change a culture in which, at such a deep level that it’s nearly invisible, there is a belief that women are prey + men can’t control their sex drive = rape? You start by pointing it out. By talking. And with recognizing that men have to change that culture.

That right there is as close as I can come to even beginning to imagine what it’s like to be black in my country. And the way to start changing a culture in which racism is so systemic that it’s barely noticeable to white people is for white people to point it out to each other, to have those hard conversations. It is not the responsibility of black people. This is on white people.

Yesterday I walked past a little free library. The first book I saw in it was The Poetry of Our World, which I took with me. In it, as a bookmark, was a quarter-folded sheet of paper with poems by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. If I were a superstitious person who looked to the universe for signs, I would have taken that as a sign that one of those poems should be the poem of the week. I’m not that kind of person, but Mr. Hughes, I see how beautiful you are, and I am ashamed.

I, too, sing America
     – Langston Hughes

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
when company comes,
but I laugh,
and eat well,
and grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
when company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
then.

Besides, they’ll see how beautiful
I am
and be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

 

For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

I don’t usually like or want to match poems with whatever’s going on in this country of ours. Too neat and easy, too matchy-matchy. But this past week? Hello. I turned many poems over in my mind but none felt exactly right. Then, near midnight tonight, I stood in a crowded room in San Francisco and watched the tremendous storyteller and artist Ashley Bryan, 92 shining years of age, climb to a podium and lead us all in a recitation of the below poem. Is there anything that man hasn’t lived through? So here you go, my friends.

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.


For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.
For more information on Ashley Bryan, please click here.
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