Carolyn Joyner


for Ethelbert

He doesn’t tell me to cheer up,
says Zora and Langston
missed me at the rent party.
Langston was sportin’ new
shoes, had wanted to dance.

His zany charm gets me
every time, folds my frowns
like origami, shapes them
into blues-busting laughter.

He stands this way for most
he knows, sometimes for those
he doesn’t, teasing and cajoling
with his outstretched smile.

Somehow, he’s able to widen
his back, carry us on it, though
sadness hangs from his shoulders,
hurt grinds just behind his eyes.


This poem is dedicated to a contemporary DC poet, E. Ethelbert Miller. But it also references two historic residents of the city, Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 27, 1967), who lived in DC from 1924 to 1926, and Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960) who attended Howard University from 1919 to 1924. Miller is the former director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, and serves as board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies.


Carolyn Joyner has been featured in Pleiades, Obsidian, Amistad, Mass Ave Review, and the anthologies Gathering Ground, Revise the Psalm, 360˚A Revolution of Black Poets, and Beyond the Frontier. She has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from The Johns Hopkins University, is a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Cave Canem fellow, and has been awarded two Artist Fellowship grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. She lives in Washington, DC. To read more of her work: 2 Poems, It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue, Spring 2009