Friday, October 14, 2016

Langston Blue by Jericho Brown


Langston Blue

“O Blood of the River of songs,
O songs of the River of Blood,”
        Let me lie down. Let my words 

Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating invocations pure
        And perfect as a moan 

That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out       
Of heaven. Blues for the angels 

Who miss them still. Blues
For my people and what water
        They know. O weary drinkers 

Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
        So close? Why sing of rivers 

With fathers of our own to miss?
I remember mine and taste a stain
        Like blood coursing the body 

Of a man chased by a mob. I write
His running, his sweat: here,
        He climbs a poplar for the sky, 

But it is only sky. The river?
Follow me. You’ll see. We tried
        To fly and learned we couldn’t 

Swim. Dear singing river full
Of my blood, are we as loud under
        Water? Is it blood that binds 

Brothers? Or is it the Mississippi
Running through the fattest vein
        Of America? When I say home, 

I mean I wanted to write some
Lines. I wanted to hear the blues,
        But here I am swimming in the river 

Again. What flows through the fat
Veins of a drowned body? What
        America can a body call 

Home? When I say Congo, I mean
Blood. When I say Nile, I mean blood.
        When I say Euphrates, I mean, 

If only you knew what blood
We have in common. So much,
        In Louisiana, they call a man like me 

Red. And red was too dark
For my daddy. And my daddy was
        Too dark for America. He ran 

Like a man from my mother
And me. And my mother’s sobs
        Are the songs of Bessie Smith 

Who wears more feathers than Death.
O the death my people refuse
        To die. When I was 18, I wrote down 

The river though I couldn’t win
A race, climbed a tree that winter, then
        Fell, flat on my wet, red face. Line 

After line, I read all the time,
But “there was nothing I could do
        About race.”

 

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