[Black History Month\Poetry\Margaret Walker]
“There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt finger accusingly at the sky…And while I stood my mind was frozen within cold pity for the life that was gone.”
The great novelist and writer Richard Wright (September 4, 1908 – November 28, 1960) author of classic books like Uncle Tom’s Children, Black Boy, and Native Son.
In honor of Black History Month, the Black Star News will be featuring speeches, interviews, poetry, etc. all month from important figures who fought for Black liberation and who represent the Black experience with honor.
Though Wright is largely known for his novels he was also a poet who, in particular, favored the Haiku poetic form. Wright also wrote the following haunting poem “Between the World and Me” about lynching published in 1935. The title for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 award-winning book comes from this poem.
Between the World and Me
And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing, Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me….
There was a design of white bones slumbering forgottenly upon a cushion of ashes. There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt finger accusingly at the sky. There were torn tree limbs, tiny veins of burnt leaves, and a scorched coil of greasy hemp; A vacant shoe, an empty tie, a ripped shirt, a lonely hat, and a pair of trousers stiff with Black blood. And upon the trampled grass were buttons, dead matches, butt-ends of cigars and cigarettes, peanut shells, a drained gin-flask, and a whore’s lipstick; Scattered traces of tar, restless arrays of feathers, and the lingering smell of gasoline. And through the morning air the sun poured yellow surprise into the eye sockets of the stony skull….
And while I stood my mind was frozen within cold pity for the life that was gone. The ground gripped my feet and my heart was circled by icy walls of fear– The sun died in the sky; a night wind muttered in the grass and fumbled the leaves in the trees; the woods poured forth the hungry yelping of hounds; the darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived: The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves into my bones. The grey ashes formed flesh firm and Black, entering into my flesh.
The gin-flask passed from mouth to mouth, cigars and cigarettes glowed, the whore smeared lipstick red upon her lips, And a thousand faces swirled around me, clamoring that my life be burned….
And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth into my throat till I swallowed my own blood. My voice was drowned in the roar of their voices, and my Black wet body slipped and rolled in their hands as they bound me to the sapling. And my skin clung to the bubbling hot tar, falling from me in limp patches. And the down and quills of the white feathers sank into my raw flesh, and I moaned in my agony. Then my blood was cooled mercifully, cooled by a baptism of gasoline. And in a blaze of red I leaped to the sky as pain rose like water, boiling my limbs Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot sides of death. Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in yellow surprise at the sun….