06 March 2009

Michael S. Harper

[from Michael S. Harper’s Dear John, Dear Coltrane, University of Illinois, 1985; University of Pittsburgh, 1970]


Twitching in the cactus
hospital gown, a loon
on hairpin wings,
she tells me how
her episiotomy
is perfectly sewn
and doesn’t hurt
while she sits in a pile
of blood
which once cleaned
the placenta
my third son should be in.
She tells me how early
he is, and how strong,
like his father,
and long, like a black-
stemmed Easter rose
in a white hand.

Just under five pounds
you lie there, a collapsed
balloon doll, burst in your
fifteenth hour, with the face
of your black father,
his fingers, his toes,
and eight voodoo
adrenalin holes in
your pinwheeled hair-lined
chest; you witness
your parents sign the autopsy
and disposal papers
shrunken to duplicate
in black ink
on white paper
like the country
you were born in,
unreal, asleep,
silent, almost alive.

This is a dedication
to our memory
of three sons —
two dead, one alive —
a reminder of a letter
to DuBois
from a student
at Cornell — on behalf
of his whole history class.
The class is confronted
with a question,
and no one —
not even the professor —
is sure of the answer:
“Will you please tell us
whether or not it is true
that negroes
are not able to cry?”

America needs a killing.
America needs a killing.
Survivors will be human.

Dear John, Dear Coltrane (Poetry from Illinois)

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