A Photograph of Negro Mania

Afaa Michael Weaver

sitting on cracked and peeling marble steps,
riding in worn out limousines hanging over the chassis,
struggling up city street hills waddling with
sweating backs, exposed to overeating and ads and ads and ads,
fist seized hearts imprisoned, sentenced to beating
through uncharted miles of untoned and suicidal flesh
            whispering "Lord."
whispering "Lord" over and over, turning fish in pans,
beating the rising dough, filling pie shells, feeding
starving masses flashing through alleys like ricochets
of lasers, standing on swollen ankles, radios crackling
           with morning spirituals.
stages with mohair suits and precision dancing,
artistic genius with classic starvation setting jazz
to geometric progression, crazy men in african zoot suits
with saxophones, the lead given to bass players when the leader
falls in a pool of sweat, vibraphones beat with blinding
flurries of minute and hairy tongs, the songs, the greatest
            burp of childlike people.
on trains with cardboard suitcases filled
with fried chicken, potato salads making greasy eyes
on the sides, peeping southern eyes on the passengers, the north
whipping past the windows in a blur of trees, they came in 1902,
1943, 1960, and before there was ever a clock or civil rights
worker to count them, they came in pre-Columbian trinkets
to lie in Cuba in shallow graves and the bottomless hells
           of the Smithsonian and cultural indignance.
thirty million of them whooping and dancing on the head of a pin,
under the eye of Jesus, their preachers the epitome of Saturday
night conmanship, their mahogany elegance a tune in four/four,
the haphazard za-zen of classical Bach and heathen jungle drums
           suddenly becoming percussion.
unashamed, unashamed, unfree and brought up right,
respecting the smooth glow of moonshine and stars,
the striking stink of rubbing alcohol cooling their grandmother's heels
in her winters, the Beatitudes, and poison ivy in vacations
           in the hell of the South.
sitting quietly, still as pre-storm summer air,
taking frozen, homemade kool-aid popsicles, making them last,
turning fried eggs without breaking in grease of week old bacon,
bending our skin shiny heads saying evening politely to the age
           and darkening white shadows.
up the one lane highways through the Carolinas and Virginia,
bouncing on shifting drop-lids of chevrolet pickups,
turning paper fans for four hours on Sunday, eyes peeled back
at the boredom, occasional madwomen doing foot stomps
in the aisle, the holy ghost descending in a curtain of raining
tears, settling on the mouths chewing gum and love notes,
            up through gates to heaven.
in another spring renewed, full of insight, humbled,
blackness is something revered, falling on unwilling hearts
like the cloak of night, this misery, these smiles unsummoned,
in the alleys, rusted cadillacs, fish frys, church dinners,
dark bars shooting dice, wine drinking and dying, falling out,
            making a grand appeal to Jesus.

 

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