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THEME FOR ENGLISH B by Langston Hughes, 1924


Silent echo – Smith

Odd dream last night. I was trying to play drums in a band called Rubber Gun Chicken and couldn’t make a sound.

So while I’m pondering that, I’ll continue the personal silence meme and use another’s words for today’s blog . . . an 88 year old poem written by a 22 year old black man to his white professor which I’ve read at our last two gatherings to appreciative silence.

This is from pages 166-7 of Cleveland Poetry Scenes: A Panorama & Anthology from Bottom Dog Press 2008, an excellent book of articles and poems I’m honored to be in (surprised too, since I’m Cleveland’s archetypical outsider).

Langston lived in Cleveland from 1917-20 when he was 15-18; he graduated from high school here where he was class poet and had his first poem published in the school magazine.

THEME FOR ENGLISH B
By Langston Hughes, 1924

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

— Langston Hughes


Cleveland building blocks – foto Smith

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