Adolescence

Claude McKay - 1889-1948

There was a time when in late afternoon
    The four-o’clocks would fold up at day’s close
Pink-white in prayer, and ’neath the floating moon
    I lay with them in calm and sweet repose.

And in the open spaces I could sleep,
    Half-naked to the shining worlds above;
Peace came with sleep and sleep was long and deep,
    Gained without effort, sweet like early love.

But now no balm—nor drug nor weed nor wine—
    Can bring true rest to cool my body’s fever,
Nor sweeten in my mouth the acid brine,
    That salts my choicest drink and will forever.

More by Claude McKay

The White House

Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.

The Tropics of New York

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger root
     Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
     Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Sat in the window, bringing memories
     of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
     In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grow dim, and I could no more gaze;
     A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways
     I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.

America

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand. 

Related Poems

Hearing your words and not a word among them (Sonnet XXXVI)

Hearing your words, and not a word among them 
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day 
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them 
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide 
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut, 
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried, 
And children whimpered and the doors blew shut; 
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north, 
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand: 
The wind of their endurance, driving south, 
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.