The Harvey Girls invaded Kansas that spring of the famine
nudged by sweet memories of cornfields in the snow.
       Okie weeders. Stranded in the orchards. Huts. Silos.

 

       Ah, the times they had—huts—racing down avenues
of rattly stalks, droopy and sere, oooo-eeee! roughhousing
       in jeans and poke bonnets until the laundry basin

 

       announced supper (thwacked) beans and jello (thwacked)
followed by coupling in the sheds. Alas that winter of the famine
       there were no sheds, and still they stayed, sullen

 

       girls of the south, squinting at yellow skies
out of verboten shacks. Alas that summer of the famine
       they breakfasted on leaves from gullies

 

       and the air tasted of acorns, ah, the meadows smelled of vanilla.
Alas that winter of the famine, their men lay down on the highways,
       and their women lay down with them, and felt the hot truck wind.

 

       Alas ladies in the cities, clutching their scalloped hankies,
oiled up the icy sidewalks in the violet dusk
       and hitching up their leather garments, fell and sued.

 

       Taxes. Caverns. Cereal. Vegetate. Simple gestures
(entering attics, bikes wobbling, dogs sunning)
       lurched into something checkerboard, with every piece

 

       outsized, gummed to attract the police.
The Harvey Girls slept until came the spring of the glut.
       Thrumming, the weed machines released an ebony menace.

 

       That summer of the glut, the fields were like monsters in heat,
and the Harvey Girls, freckled and worn, smiled at the northern mistral,
       and headed on mules for the mountains, that autumn of the glut.

Poems by Kenward Elmslie are used by permission of The Estate of Kenward Elmslie.

Watts Riot, 1965

They had waited so long, they had given up too soon.
So much smog, smoke, haze the clearest blue was grey.
They had waited so long, they had given up too soon.
As if three hundred years had fallen to one day.

So much smog, smoke, haze the clearest blue was grey.
It was running away from him even then, the problem.
As if three hundred years had fallen to one day.
Haze, aqua, white, the coast, the beach, peach, slate.

It was running away from him even then, the problem.
Riding in a convertible through the mythic streets.
Haze, aqua, white, the coast, the beach, peach, slate.
Sunlight, palm trees, every boulevard ends at the beach.

Riding in a convertible through the mythic streets,
The rhythm of perfect days illuminating his disarray.
Sunlight, palm trees, every boulevard ends at the beach.
Following Sunset into the future, or tomorrow, at least.

The rhythm of perfect days illuminating his disarray.
As the sphinx that is the sun stares, nods, riddles.
Following Sunset into the future, or tomorrow, at least.
Slate blue, green, blue palms, lime, lavender, white, haze.

As the sphinx that is the sun stares, nods, riddles.
If a black man couldn’t be happy here, where could he?
Slate blue, green, blue palms, lime, lavender, white, haze.
Dreams of light, blossoms falling, pink and white.

If a black man couldn’t be happy here, where could he?
Shabby and pastel horizons, rolling brown paradise on fire.
Dreams of light, blossoms falling, pink and white.
As sunlight fans across the mirror of the bay.

Shabby and pastel horizons, rolling brown paradise on fire.
Pacifist mired in violence, staring at the Pacific—
As sunlight fans across the mirror of the bay.
He stared at the ocean before turning back into history.

Pacifist mired in violence, staring at the Pacific—
They had waited so long, they had given up too soon.
He stared at the ocean before turning back into history.
They had waited too long, they had given up too soon.

Copyright © 2015 by Anthony Walton. This poem was first printed in Black Renaissance Noire, Vol. 15, Issue 1 (Spring–Summer 2015). Used with the permission of the author.