"Mother to Son"
by Langston Hughes
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
The night was dark and fearful,
The blast swept wailing by;
A Watcher, pale and tearful,
Look’d forth with anxious eye;
How wistfully she gazes—
No gleam of morn is there!
And then her heart upraises
Its agony of prayer!
Within that dwelling lonely,
Where want and darkness reign,
Her precious child, her only,
Lay moaning in his pain;
And death alone can free him—
She feels that this must be:
“But oh! for morn to see him
Smile once again for me!”
A hundred lights are glancing
In yonder mansion fair,
And merry feet are dancing—
They heed not morning there.
Oh! young and lovely creatures,
One lamp, from out your store,
Would give that poor boy’s features
To her fond gaze once more.
The morning sun is shining—
She heedeth not its ray;
Beside her dead, reclining,
That pale, dead mother lay!
A smile her lip was wreathing,
A smile of hope and love,
As though she still were breathing—
“There’s light for us above!”
You said the word that enamors
My hearing. You already forgot. Good.
Sleep peacefully. Your face should
Be serene and beautiful at all hours.
When the seductive mouth enchants
It should be fresh, your speech pleasant;
For your office as lover it’s not good
That many tears come from your face.
More glorious destinies reclaim you
That were brought, between the black wells
Of the dark circles beneath your eyes,
the seer in pain.
The bottom, summit of the beautiful victims!
The foolish spade of some barbarous king
Did more harm to the world and your statue.
I Am Going To Sleep
Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew,
hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,
prepare the earthly sheets for me
and the down quilt of weeded moss.
I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.
Set a lamp at my headboard;
a constellation; whatever you like;
all are good: lower it a bit.
Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .
a celestial foot rocks you from above
and a bird traces a pattern for you
so you’ll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:
if he telephones again
tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .
A Eros (To Eros)
HE AQUI que te cacé por el pescuezo
a la orilla del mar, mientras movías
las flechas de tu aljaba para herirme
y vi en el suelo tu floreal corona.
Como a un muñeco destripé tu vientre
y examiné sus ruedas engañosas
y muy envuelta en sus poleas de oro
hallé una trampa que decía: sexo.
Sobre la playa, ya un guiñapo triste,
te mostré al sol, buscón de tus hazañas,
ante un corro asustado de sirenas.
Iba subiendo por la cuesta albina
tu madrina de engaños, Doña Luna,
y te arrojé a la boca de las olas.
I caught you by the neck
on the shore of the sea, while you shot
arrows from your quiver to wound me
and on the ground I saw your flowered crown.
I disemboweled your stomach like a doll’s
and examined your deceitful wheels,
and deeply hidden in your golden pulleys
I found a trapdoor that said: sex.
On the beach I held you, now a sad heap,
up to the sun, accomplice of your deeds,
before a chorus of frightened sirens.
Your deceitful godmother, the moon
was climbing through the crest of the dawn,
and I threw you into the mouth of the waves.
My melancholy was gold dust in your hands;
On your long hands I scattered my life;
My sweetnesses remained clutched in your hands;
Now I am a vial of perfume, emptied
How much sweet torture quietly suffered,
When, my soul wrested with shadowy sadness,
She who knows the tricks, I passed the days
kissing the two hands that stifled my life
Today my mother and sisters
came to see me.
I had been alone a long time
with my poems, my pride . . . almost nothing.
My sister—the oldest—is grown up,
is blondish. An elemental dream
goes through her eyes: I told the youngest
“Life is sweet. Everything bad comes to an end.”
My mother smiled as those who understand souls
tend to do;
She placed two hands on my shoulders.
She’s staring at me . . .
and tears spring from my eyes.
We ate together in the warmest room
of the house.
Spring sky . . . to see it
all the windows were opened.
And while we talked together quietly
of so much that is old and forgotten,
My sister—the youngest—interrupts:
“The swallows are flying by us.”
Lighthouse in the Night
The sky a black sphere,
the sea a black disk.
The lighthouse opens
its solar fan on the coast.
Spinning endlessly at night,
whom is it searching for
when the mortal heart
looks for me in the chest?
Look at the black rock
where it is nailed down.
A crow digs endlessly
but no longer bleeds.
I have a rendezvous with Life, In days I hope will come, Ere youth has sped, and strength of mind, Ere voices sweet grow dumb. I have a rendezvous with Life, When Spring’s first heralds hum. Sure some would cry it’s better far To crown their days with sleep Than face the road, the wind and rain, To heed the calling deep. Though wet nor blow nor space I fear, Yet fear I deeply, too, Lest Death should meet and claim me ere I keep Life’s rendezvous.
Listen to “The Bean Eaters” below:
“The Bean Eaters” by GWENDOLYN BROOKS
Read by Teyuna T. Darris
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.
And remembering …
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Bean Eaters” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1963 by Gwendolyn Brooks.