“The Harlem Dancer” by Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)



Listen to the “Harlem Dancer” here:


“The Harlem Dancer

by Claude McKay

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes

And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;

Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes

Blown by black players upon a picnic day.

She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,

The light gauze hanging loose about her form;

To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm

Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.

Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls

Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise,

The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,

Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;

But looking at her falsely-smiling face,

I knew her self was not in that strange place.

“Little Red-Cap” by CAROL ANN DUFFY


Little Red-Cap

BY CAROL ANN DUFFY | 2 MINS

(Read Carol Ann Duffy‘s Biography)

At childhood’s end, the houses petered out

into playing fields, the factory, allotments

kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men,

the silent railway line, the hermit’s caravan,

till you came at last to the edge of the woods.

It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf.

He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud

in his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw,

red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears

he had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!

In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me,

sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink,

my first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.

The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods,

away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place

lit by the eyes of owls. I crawled in his wake,

my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer

snagged on twig and branch, murder clues. I lost both shoes

but got there, wolf’s lair, better beware. Lesson one that night,

breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem.

I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for

what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?

Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws

and went in search of a living bird – white dove –

which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth.

One bite, dead. How nice, breakfast in bed, he said,

licking his chops. As soon as he slept, I crept to the back

of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books.

Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head,

warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood.

But then I was young – and it took ten years

in the woods to tell that a mushroom

stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds

are the uttered thought of trees, that a greying wolf

howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out,

season after season, same rhyme, same reason. I took an axe

to a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon

to see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf

as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw

the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones.

I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up.

Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.

“Differences of Opinion” by WENDY COPE


Differences of Opinion

BY WENDY COPE

HE TELLS HER

He tells her that the earth is flat —
He knows the facts, and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long
She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well.
He calls her arguments unsound
And often asks her not to yell.
She cannot win. He stands his ground.

The planet goes on being round.

“What Kind of Times Are These” by ADRIENNE RICH (1929 – 2012)


What Kind of Times Are These

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

“Instruction” by HAZEL HALL (1886 – 1924)


Instruction

By HAZEL HALL

My hands that guide a needle
In their turn are led
Relentlessly and deftly
As a needle leads a thread.

Other hands are teaching
My needle: when I sew
I feel the cool, thin fingers
Of hands I do not know.

They urge my needle onward.
They smooth my seams. until
The worry of my stitches
Smothers in their skill.

All the tired women.
Who sewed their lives away.
Speak in my deft fingers
as I sew to-day.

“White Branches” by HAZEL HALL (1886 – 1924)


White Branches

By HAZEL HALL

I had forgotten the gesture of branches
Suddenly white,
And I had forgotten the fragrance of blossoms
Filling a room at night.

In remembering the curve of branches
Who beckoned me in vain,
Remembering dark rooms of coolness
Where fragrance was like pain,
I have forgotten all else; there is nothing
That signifies –
There is only the brush of branch and white breath
Against my lips and eyes.

“blessing the boats” by LUCILLE CLIFTON (1936 – 2010)


blessing the boats

                                    (at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that