The Bronze Legacy

Effie Lee Newsome - 1885-1979

(To a Brown Boy)

‘Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
     Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
     Even like the very land,
     Even like the trunks of trees—
     Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.

To be brown like thrush and lark!
     Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
     Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
     Brown has mighty things to do.

More by Effie Lee Newsome

Morning Light

(The Dew-drier)

It is a custom in some parts of Africa for travelers into the jungles to send before them in the early morning little African boys called “Dew-driers” to brush with their bodies the dew from the high grasses—and be, perchance, the first to meet the leopard’s or hyena’s challenge—and so open the road. “Human Brooms,” Dan Crawford calls them.

Brother to the firefly—
For as the firefly lights the night
So lights he the morning—
Bathed in the dank dews as he goes forth
Through heavy menace and mystery
Of half-waking tropic dawns,
Behold a little black boy, a naked black boy,
Sweeping aside with his slight frame
Night’s pregnant tears,
And making a morning path to the light
For the tropic traveler!

Bathed in the blood of battle,
Treading toward a new morning,
May not his race—its body long bared to the world’s disdain,
Its face schooled to smile for a light to come—
May not his race, even as the dew-boy leads,
Bear onward the world toward a new day-dawn
When tolerance, forgiveness,
Such as reigned in the heart of One
Whose heart was gold,
Shall shape the earth for that fresh dawning
     After the dews of blood?


O Autumn, Autumn!

O Autumn, Autumn! O pensive light
     and wistful sound!
Gold-haunted sky, green-haunted ground!

When, wan, the dead leaves flutter by
     Deserted realms of butterfly!
When robins band themselves together

     To seek the sound of sun-steeped weather;
And all of summer’s largesse goes
     For lands of olive and the rose!

Related Poems

Crossing

The water is one thing, and one thing for miles.
The water is one thing, making this bridge
Built over the water another. Walk it
Early, walk it back when the day goes dim, everyone
Rising just to find a way toward rest again.
We work, start on one side of the day
Like a planet’s only sun, our eyes straight
Until the flame sinks. The flame sinks. Thank God
I’m different. I’ve figured and counted. I’m not crossing
To cross back. I’m set
On something vast. It reaches
Long as the sea. I’m more than a conqueror, bigger
Than bravery. I don’t march. I’m the one who leaps.

Old Black Men

They have dreamed as young men dream
     Of glory, love and power;
They have hoped as youth will hope
     Of life’s sun-minted hour.

They have seen as other saw
     Their bubbles burst in air,
And they have learned to live it down
     As though they did not care.

The Book of Genesis

Once I was:
lone brown spot
in a garden

of upright stems
They said
what do you have to say

let your dry lips open
let cocoa powder
rain onto our desks

they stared at me
for six days
as if I were a peach pit

as if by lunchtime
I would be swallowed
into the sandbox

like a dream   They led me
to a sink made me
wash my hands in cold oil

I was a temple
angels are watching over
they chanted

until I never slept
my eyes turned purple
with guilt and imagination

they never let me eat
the stale body or fill
my ribs with bitter juice

they led me to an apple tree
I swear to God
told me to sit and wait

until my earrings got heavy
and I could see right through
the whole damn city

these days I think
I can find truth in song
as if it started inside me

these days I think
a powdered rock
could save us

cold oils of a stranger’s tongue
and I sleep with
my hands in little fists

tucked close to my chin
this is the way my people
have slept for years

O garden of soiled light
I believe in
different reasons