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.
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.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
When our semi-conductor Raised his baton, we sat there Gaping at Marche Militaire, Our mouth-opening number. It seemed faintly familiar (We'd rehearsed it all that winter), But we attacked in such a blur, No army anywhere On its stomach or all fours Could have squeezed through our crossfire. I played cornet, seventh chair, Out of seven, my embouchure A glorified Bronx cheer Through that three-keyed keyhole stopper And neighborhood window-slammer Where mildew fought for air At every exhausted corner, My fingering still unsure After scaling it for a year Except on the spit-valve lever. Each straight-faced mother and father Retested his moral fiber Against our traps and slurs And the inadvertent whickers Paradiddled by our snares, And when the brass bulled forth A blare fit to horn over Jericho two bars sooner Than Joshua's harsh measures, They still had the nerve to stare. By the last lost chord, our director Looked older and soberer. No doubt, in his mind's ear Some band somewhere In some music of some Sphere Was striking a note as pure As the wishes of Franz Schubert, But meanwhile here we were: A lesson in everything minor, Decomposing our first composer.
"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more—that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut—my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"
From Shel Silverstein: Poems and Drawings; originally appeared in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Copyright © 2003 by HarperCollins Children's Books. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
This is my first memory: A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky wood floor A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply too short For me to sit in and read So my first book was always big In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided To the left side the card catalogue On the right newspapers draped over what looked like a quilt rack Magazines face out from the wall The welcoming smile of my librarian The anticipation in my heart All those books—another world—just waiting At my fingertips.
"My First Memory (of Librarians)" from Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 2007 by Nikki Giovanni. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.