Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On April 30: Poems, Pockets and Baltimore

Thursday, April 30 is Poem In Your Pocket Day. This is a day for everyone to carry a favorite poem around and share it with whomever they meet. Normally, this is a joyous occasion for me and a reason for celebration, but I woke up today with the situation in Baltimore on my mind and with several not-so-happy poems running around in my head. Here are my nominees for poems that need to be in our pockets on Thursday and shared widely. And let us remember that riots do not happen in a vacuum, they are the product of deeply felt and long held hurt. Hurt that cannot be assuaged by too late calls for calm.



Incident

by Countee Cullen


Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, 'Nigger.'

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.



If We Must Die
 by Claude McKay


If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen!  We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
 

A Dream Deferred
 by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Poems carry powerful messages and powerful messages are called for on this day. Share a poem, start a conversation, make a connection with others, but mainly think of Freddie Gray and be informed and engaged in the conversation as we try to take lessons from another very personal, and yet very public, tragedy.