(for marcia davis)
i came to live here in ’35. like hansberry’s
folks in chi-town. no bricks thrown through my
windows even though the wasps and irish spell
“niger” with just one “g.” ‘what’s a “g” between
friends?’ they say. one noteworthy fool who
drove by slow screamed “naygur” as loud as he could.
many put signs on their lawns, or searched
quickly for sundown towns that could remove
the “exotic” from their memory.
but “count us in” anyway. count them out.
and let it be declared that everyone did not
succumb to the easy hate. professors from the
catholic college down the road did not join the
racial exodus. hammond and myrdal and lomax came
to drink bourbon from my pretty tall glasses.
i play my 78’s all night for them. bessie and ma rainey
and louis armstrong. they marvel at my book
collections and the missing cracks and pops
from my vinyl. when the whiskey begins to work
like chicken soup for a head cold, the story of king oliver
dying broke mopping floors in obscurity in georgia
always comes up, followed by my confident dismissal of
“gone with the wind” as nothing more than
“the international jew” for black people.
i could have written more. but there is more to
this life than beats and lines, the incessant uneasiness
of iambic ideology. there are the children. what shall
become of us without sunflowers growing beautifully
abundant in grassy fields? and someone to know
armstrong’s ‘west end blues’ like a recipe for cobbler
that has never been written down. this is our strength,
endurance, this is how we always overcome those
demented screams from slow moving cars.
Brian Gilmore is a poet, writer, and columnist with the Progressive Media Project. He is the author of three collections of poetry, elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlem (Third World Press, 1993), Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags (Karibu Books, 2001), and his latest, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters (Cherry Castle, 2014). He has published in The Progressive, The Nation, The Washington Post, Book Forum, The Baltimore Sun, and Jubilat. He currently teaches at the Michigan State University College of Law. He divides his time between Michigan and his beloved birthplace, Washington, DC. To read more by this author: Brian Gilmore, Spring 2001; Brian Gilmore's Introduction to The "Woodshed" Issue, Fall 2001; Brian Gilmore on Waring Cuney: Memorial Issue; Brian Gilmore: DC Places Issue; Brian Gilmore: Evolving City Issue; Brian Gilmore: Split This Rock Issue; Brian Gilmore: Audio Issue; Brian Gilmore: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue; Brian Gilmore on Drum & Spear Bookstore: Literary Organizations Issue; Brian Gilmore: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue.