Down that Great Black Way the blues
falling from the windows: now it’s
The Rolling Stones we take our measure from
(or some other manufactured sensibility
they are all Artists:
Bobby Dylan wants peace, his voice
circling around his Bentley,
Don’t bomb my bank
the accents placed in pre-bop
fashion, worn out.
here, the drunken spook hollering
Mint Julep in the bitter wind,
Oh! De ole Cotton Club!
my mother went to carrying me
in her belly, my father with his buck cigars
his red Moon roadster parked somewhere,
safe. Always a good ole nigger then,
back in the roaring zo’s. Yassuh!
Freezing in the streets, their clothes
which were always the best of the best
hip enough, their hair will not
grow long. Displaced, again, this time
by those who love them (the music’s surfaces
appropriated, the terminology
they learned in jail or
in the vicious rumbling gangs
appropriated. It is not
their time, still not,
nor mine either. I have no
trust save in our absolute
What could she know of them
who knew nothing of my father
who unlearned all he knew of my grandfather
throwing the plates, the spoons, the pasta
and the forks out the window, clattering on the
concrete beyond the fig trees and the grapes
This thread I cannot find at all
you American, whom I almost envy, that long line
of slaves you come from, that hard black stock
that spit in the eye of the white bastards that
could not make it as your family made it:
My father with his
topcoat buttoned like
a woman’s, wrong way,
to hide the fraying, he
too, he made it.
It was not his world
yet he too appropriated
all its uses in that
grim Sicilian manner:
use the authorities
till they and their filth
are inextricable from your
The name you have was John’s.
The possessive. Mine sounds Neapolitan,
That sweet sob, that ring to it.
Yet those people of mine come
from the sea from the town of
They do not sing, the measure of that name
has no reality, as yours has no reality, held
against my people, and your people, that name
of mine some farce, yours some rich thug of a planter.
We have not lost roots since we had
none. The bitter truth,
of that. Americans. Marches for
peace, and there is no peace.
We move within our secret, our insulted language
a rhythm too subtle for the
New Youth, who have stolen your
mother’s music, your father’s music
–that they have forgotten.
Your hatred of my people is clear
to me. They have always hated themselves,
and slaughtered others to assuage it.
Now they ask for peace.
Your father and mine have elected them all,
The lists of them! John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey,
Warren Gamaliel Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
one face above us to lead us out
of despair into
out of despair into
No yellow flowers will save us,
no orgies, no drugs, nothing will save us,
we are guilty, the rivers will dry up
so that we die. In your stolen
rhythms we sing our white songs
of despair, we
I Want To Live!
It was Césaire, your brother who said that
the one thing worth beginning was the beginning
of the end of the world. No white man
can accept that, it is in his own selfish flesh he finds
all sweetness. It was Dante, my vague forebear
who went to hell and found there / all his friends.
I go back to some banana boat
at Ellis Island, lice and dysentery, past
that the blood of the people of South Ireland,
bad teeth and shriveled pricks. Thin Celtic
blood mixed with the ice-water of the stiff
Sicilianos. Fishermen and stonemasons, men of
violence, whose daughters now are doctors.
Whose sons dance to the emasculated rhythms
of your tribes.
This name, these names.
My father with his stone lions out before
the house, his bright blue .38 and
judges on his yacht. The smell of fish
and earth on the hands split and calloused
of my old granpa.
A despair. The end.
Cows silent in the fields.
The old uncles dead, laughter
dead with them. Their sons
understand the necessity
of our involvement” and
their homes are far away
from all of yours except those
who have in some bitter year
cut their balls off.
The buyers of the Dream.
Slick, slick, bitter people, bitter land,
the names of the fathers no use, the
memories of banana boats and slave shacks
no use. Our rhetoric here accepts our guilt,
and the usage remains constant. Insane men
who love their children
Carried in my mother to the Cotton Club.
My friend. Slumming in Harlem. My friend.
1929. My friend. There was always a good nigger
then and later I spoke to a black man for the
first time in my life, in a club, your music
playing, with guinea sideburns,
my nigger clothes, these men who entertained us,
as we say of them in our American stupidity, my friend.
My mother, with me in her, to hear the Duke
whom I later worshiped, hating my white friends
who could not hear him.
My father in his silk shirt, his onyx cuff links,
some good nigger watching that red Moon.
All of us on the slope of it, the Good Life:
that has come to us (that has come to us
in rivers of blood while we
dance to your music with words
of peace and protest though there is
no peace, and will not be.
And your granpa dead in Williams’ country,
and my old granpa, alone, locked into his
language and his ignorance, sitting blind in the darkness
beneath his fig trees and his grapes, old and blind,
through those grey leaves the stolen rhythms
of your people, Jazz: Jazz: Rudy Vallee wild and
foreign to that old man’s ears, old and blind
beneath the ice-cream moon of North America.