Jericho Brown

Shreveport / United States

Langston Blue

"O Blood of the River of songs,
O songs of the River of Blood,"
Let me lie down. Let my words
Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating invocations pure
And perfect as a moan
That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out
Of heaven. Blues for the angels
Who miss them still. Blues
For my people and what water
They know. O weary drinkers
Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
So close? Why sing of rivers
With fathers of our own to miss?
I remember mine and taste a stain
Like blood coursing the body
Of a man chased by a mob. I write
His running, his sweat: here,
He climbs a poplar for the sky,
But it is only sky. The river?
Follow me. You'll see. We tried
To fly and learned we couldn't
Swim. Dear singing river full
Of my blood, are we as loud under
Water? Is it blood that binds
Brothers? Or is it the Mississippi
Running through the fattest vein
Of America? When I say home,
I mean I wanted to write some
Lines. I wanted to hear the blues,
But here I am swimming in the river
Again. What flows through the fat
Veins of a drowned body? What
America can a body call
Home? When I say Congo, I mean
Blood. When I say Nile, I mean blood.
When I say Euphrates, I mean,
If only you knew what blood
We have in common. So much,
In Louisiana, they call a man like me
Red. And red was too dark
For my daddy. And my daddy was
Too dark for America. He ran
Like a man from my mother
And me. And my mother's sobs
Are the songs of Bessie Smith
Who wears more feathers than
Death. O the death my people refuse
To die. When I was 18, I wrote down
The river though I couldn't win
A race, climbed a tree that winter, then
Fell, flat on my wet, red face. Line
After line, I read all the time,
But "there was nothing I could do
About race."
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