Category Archives: Health and Humanities

Two Poems by Langston Hughes

Harlem (1951)
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?

 

Let America Be America Again (1935)
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

 

(America never was America to me.)

 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

 

(It never was America to me.)

 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

 

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

 

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

 

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

 

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,

Tangled in that ancient endless chain

Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!

Of work the men! Of take the pay!

Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.

I am the worker sold to the machine.

I am the Negro, servant to you all.

I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—

Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,

The poorest worker bartered through the years.

 

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream

In the Old World while still a serf of kings,

Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,

That even yet its mighty daring sings

In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned

That’s made America the land it has become.

O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas

In search of what I meant to be my home—

For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,

And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,

And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came

To build a “homeland of the free.”

 

The free?

 

Who said the free?  Not me?

Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?

The millions shot down when we strike?

The millions who have nothing for our pay?

For all the dreams we’ve dreamed

And all the songs we’ve sung

And all the hopes we’ve held

And all the flags we’ve hung,

The millions who have nothing for our pay—

Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

 

O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

 

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,

We must take back our land again,

America!

 

O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

 

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

We, the people, must redeem

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

The mountains and the endless plain—

All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!

 

 

Zora Neale Hurston’s “My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience”

My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience
by Zora Neale Hurston

My most humiliating Jim Crow experience came in New York instead of the South as one would have expected. It was in 1931 when Mrs. R Osgood Mason was financing my researches in anthropology. I returned to New York from the Bahama Islands ill with some disturbances of the digestive tract.

Godmother (Mrs. Mason liked for me to call her Godmother) became concerned about my condition and suggested a certain white specialist at her expense. His office was in Brooklyn.

Mr. Paul Chapin called up and made the appointment for me. The doctor told the wealthy and prominent Paul Chapin that 1 would get the best of care.

So two days later I journeyed to Brooklyn to submit myself to the care of the great specialist.

His reception room was more than swanky, with a magnificent hammered copper door and other decor on the same plane as the door.

But his receptionist was obviously embarrassed when I showed up. I mentioned the appointment and got inside the door. She went into the private office and stayed a few minutes, then the doctor appeared in the door all in white, looking very important, and also very unhappy from behind his round stomach.

He did not approach me at all, but told one of his nurses to take me into a private examination room.

The room was private all right, but I would not rate it highly as an examination room. Under any other circumstances, would have sworn it was a closet where the soiled towels and uniforms were tossed until called for by the laundry. But I will say this for it, there was a chair in there wedged in between the wall and the pile of soiled linen.

The nurse took me in there, closed the door quickly md disappeared. The doctor came in immediately and began in a desultory manner to ask me about symptoms. It was evident he meant to get me off the premises as quickly as possible.

Being the sort of objective person I am, I did not get up and sweep out angrily as I was first disposed to do. I stayed to see just what would happen, and further to torture him more. He went through some motions, stuck a tube down my throat to extract some bile from my gall bladder, wrote a prescription and asked for twenty dollars as a fee.

I got up, set my hat at a reckless angle and walked out, telling him I would send him a check, which I never did. I went away feeling the pathos of Anglo-Saxon civilization.

And I still mean pathos, for I know that anything with such a false foundation cannot last. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

 Negro Digest, June 1944

Ross Gay’s “Sorrow Is Not My Name”

Sorrow Is Not My Name
by Ross Gay

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No

matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.

There is a time for everything. Look,

just this morning a vulture

nodded his red, grizzled head at me,

and I looked at him, admiring

the sickle of his beak.

Then the wind kicked up, and,

after arranging that good suit of feathers

he up and took off.

Just like that. And to boot,

there are, on this planet alone, something like two

million naturally occurring sweet things,

some with names so generous as to kick

the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,

stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks

at the market. Think of that. The long night,

the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me

on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.

But look; my niece is running through a field

calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel

and at the end of my block is a basketball court.

I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

for Walter Aikens

 

Ross Gay, “Sorrow Is Not My Name,” from Bringing the Shovel Down. 2011.

Traci Brimhall’s “Shelter in Place”

Recommended: Listen to Traci Brimhall read “Shelter in Place”

Shelter in Place
by Traci Brimhall

I didn’t know I loved Kansas, with its wind skirling
through the arms of windmills, its fields gravid
with lavender, its subscriptions for sunflowers.

I thought I was pollen complaint and water hunger.
I didn’t know I loved the hopeful ugliness of cygnets,

or that a group of vultures is called a wake, or that
a skull oxbows with a signature unique as a fingerprint.
I thought I loved to verb through the days, but spring

annulled that marriage, giving me to stillness. I didn’t
know I would also love the discourse of chickadees

in the redbud and insects at rest on my books, their legs
testing the strength of n’s and o’s before flitting off.
I didn’t know I would also love the sundial’s secretarial

shadow. I’d forgotten I loved the blue of afternoon—
bold, bare, the white of ecstasy at its edges, the lyric

bending me over its knees. I’d forgotten how to recite
the rosary long distance, but I knew I loved Latin
in the shower. I didn’t know I loved using my breath

to make a page of the mirror and draw vines of vanishing
roses with my ring finger, its vena amoris plumbing

commitment from hand to heart. I didn’t know I loved
wasps when I set the nest on fire. I only meant to protect
my son from his rushed in and out through the door,

but I watched them pull pearled eggs from muddy tunnels,
and I knew. I didn’t know I loved raccoons raiding day-old

cheeseburgers dressed with coleslaw and hot sauce from
plastic trash cans. What ingenious survival, what midnight.
I knew couplets loved dangling from trees. I knew rosemary

loved garnishing gin. I once loved brass bands and free
boat rides, but now I love hammers for hanging pictures

and telescopes for imagining a future with mix tapes of denim
and rhinestone rodeos, my face unmasked, my arm brushing
a stranger’s. Even now I love the stout pulses of magicians

and the salads my son makes from the wild in our yard—
the bitter dandelion greens, chickweed, henbit. I’d forgotten

I’m good at survival, too, that I’ve taught my son the uses
of the earth. Each day we walk one block further, our own
sympathetic magic, a ritual to ask the world to let us return.

I know I will love tomorrow’s moon as it coats its smell
on mint. I’ll love the driptorch bathing last year’s grasses in fire.

I know hope is a discipline but so is the dark heat falling
toward me, a citation of grief, a joy ready to welcome a late
continue, to fly open the door for my son, already running.

Traci Brimhall, “Shelter in Place.” May 15, 2020. Posted as part a new poetry series on Terrain.Org’s called Letter to America. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Lisa Olstein.