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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Seven Poems from Léon-Gontran Damas

Those interested in Damas may also wish to read "A brief History of Negritude" and "Sartre's Black Orpheus," both posted for this same month.

for Aimé Césaire

I feel laughable
in their shoes
in their dinner jacket
in their stiff shirt
in their detachable collar
in their monocle
in their bowler hat

I feel laughable
with my toes that were not born
to sweat from morning until night’s disrobing
with swaddling that weakens my limbs
and robs from my body its loincloth beauty

I feel laughable
with my neck a factory chimney
with headaches that stop
each time I greet someone

I feel laughable
in their salons
in their manners
in their low bows
in their enormous need for monkeyshines

I feel laughable
with all that conversation
until you are served in mid-afternoon
a bit of hot water
and some rheumy pastries.

I feel laughable
with the theories they shape
to the taste of their needs
of their passions
of their instincts wide open at night
like a doormat

I feel laughable
an accomplice among them
a pander among them
among those bloody hands red and frightening
with the blood of their ci-vi-la-za-tion

They Came Tonight

for Léopold-Sedar Senghor

They came the night the
spun from
of eyes
the frenzy of hands
the frenzy
of the feet of statues
how many of ME ME ME
are dead
since they came that night when the
spun from
of eyes
of hands
of the feet of statues

Hold Off Now

Hold off now with the blues
the boogie-woogie
the muted trumpet
the mad foot-stomping
the joys of rhythm

Hold off now the swinging sessions
with crowds
by cries of hepcats.

Hold off now dropping out
and bootlicking
and brownnosing
the attitude
of those who would be white.

Hold off now for just a bit
The infantile life
and desires
and needs
and narcissism
and individualistic

Nerve Pain

Nerve pain of a running tap
fills the pitcher of my building’s super
till it’s sucked up by a rainbow.

End the nerve pain of a running tap
that fills the pitcher of my building’s super
till it’s sucked up by a rainbow.

Remove from the running tap
the pitcher of my building’s super
till it’s sucked up by a rainbow.

or sever the hand to the elbow
the rainbow that sucks up
the pitcher of my building’s super
which is filled by the nerve pain
of a running tap.

The Blues
for Robert Romain

Give back my black dolls
that they can dispel
the image of wan whores
selling love and promenading
on the boulevard of my ennui

Give back my black dolls
that they can dispel
the constant image
the unreal image
of heaps of spanked puppets
whose miserable mercy
the wind brings to the nose

Give me the illusion that I’ll no longer need to comfort
the need splayed out
before the snoring mercy
under the world’s unthinking disregard.

Give back my black dolls
so I can play with them
the naïve games that come naturally
lodged in the shadow of my laws
my heart recovered
my daring
I become myself again
newly myself
from what I was Yesterday
quite simply
when the time of uprooting came

Will they never know this resentment in my heart
the eye of distrust opened too late
they made off with the space that was mine
the clothes
the days
the life
the song
the rhythm
the work
the way
the water
the shacks
the grey smoked earth
the wisdom
the words
the palaver
the elders
the beat
the hands
the tempo
the hands
the foot-stomping
the sun

Give back my black dolls
my black dolls
black dolls

The Black’s Lament
for Robert Goffin

They gave me back
heavier more tired

My present’s overlaid on my past
staring eyes roll with anger
and shame

The days of inexorable
have never stopped
with the memory
of what had been
my life cut off

It goes on
my dullness
from days gone by
blows from knotted ropes
body burnt
burnt from toe to back
dead flesh
branding irons
of red hot iron
arms broken
under the whip unleashed
under the whip that makes the plantation work
and the sugar mill drink the blood my blood
while the foreman’s pipe shows off to the sky

for J. D.

The days themselves
have assumed the shape
of African masks
to any profanation
of quicklime
flattered by
a piano flatters
repeating the same old tune
of moonlight that sighs
any sort at all
in the shrubbery
et cetera

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