“Tuskegee” by Leslie Pinckney Hill (1880 – 1960)


Wherefore this busy labor without rest?
Is it an idle dream to which we cling,
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best.
By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.”
So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test?
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know—
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.

“My Little Dreams by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880 – 1966)


My Little Dreams

I’m folding up my little dreams
Within my heart tonight,
And praying I may soon forget
The torture of their sight.

For time’s deft fingers scroll my brow
With fell relentless art—
I’m folding up my little dreams
Tonight, within my heart.

“Sonnet” by Alice Dunbar- Nelson


Sonnet

By Alice Dunbar

I HAD no thought of violets of late,  
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet      
In wistful April days, when lovers mate        
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.     
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,         5
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;         
And garish lights, and mincing little fops     
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.          
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,       
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;             10
The perfect loveliness that God has made,—
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.       
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream      
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.

“The Wife-Woman” by Anne Spencer


The Wife-Woman

Anne Spencer

Maker-of-Sevens in the scheme of things
From earth to star;
Thy cycle holds whatever is fate, and
Over the border the bar.
Though rank and fierce the mariner
Sailing the seven seas,
He prays, as he holds his glass to his eyes,
Coaxing the Pleiades.

I cannot love them; and I feel your glad
Chiding from the grave,
That my all was only worth at all, what
Joy to you it gave.
These seven links the Law compelled
For the human chain —
I cannot love them; and you, oh,
Seven-fold months in Flanders slain!

A jungle there, a cave here, bred six
And a million years,
Sure and strong, mate for mate, such
Love as culture fears;
I gave you clear the oil and wine;
You saved me your hob and hearth —
See how even life may be ere the
Sickle comes and leaves a swath.

But I can wait the seven of moons,
Or years I spare,
Hoarding the heart’s plenty, nor spend
A drop, nor share —
So long but outlives a smile and
A silken gown;
Then gaily I reach up from my shroud,
And you, glory-clad, reach down.

Translation

We trekked into a far country,
My friend and I.
Our deeper content was never spoken,
But each knew all the other said.
He told me how calm his soul was laid
By the lack of anvil and strife.
“The wooing kestrel,” I said, “mutes his mating-note
To please the harmony of this sweet silence.”
And when at the day’s end
We laid tired bodies ’gainst
The loose warm sands,
And the air fleeced its particles for a coverlet;
When star after star came out
To guard their lovers in oblivion —
My soul so leapt that my evening prayer
Stole my morning song!

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou


 

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

“The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks



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,

Tin flatware.

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.

“The Gift to Sing” by James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)


Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.