In the Eighties We Did the Wop

- 1968-

If you end your crusades for the great race,  

then I will end my reenactments of flying, 

and if you lean down to smell a painted trillium, 

then I will cast a closer eye on those amber waves,  

and if you stop killing black children,  

then I will turn my drums to the sea and away from  

your wounded mountains. Who mothered your love of death? 

Here is a heart-shaped stone to rub when you feel fear rising; 

give me anything, an empty can of Pabst, a plastic souvenir, a t-shirt from Daytona.  

Here is a first edition: The Complete Poems of Lucille Clifton.  

Give me an ancient grove and a conversation by a creek, charms  

to salve my griefs, something that says you are human, 

and I will give you the laughter in my brain and the tranquil eyes of my uncles.  

Show me your grin in the middle of winter. 

In the eighties we did the wop; you, too, have your dances.  

It is like stealing light from a flash in the sky. I promise:  

no one is blaming you. No one is trying to replace you. 

It’s just that you are carrying a tainted clock calling it European History

standing in khakis, eyes frightened like a mess of beetles. 

Letter to Brooks [Spring Garden]


When you have forgotten (to bring into 
   Play that fragrant morsel of rhetoric, 
Crisp as autumnal air), when you 
   Have forgotten, say, sun-lit corners, brick 
   Full of skyline, rowhomes, smokestacks, 
Billboards, littered rooftops & wondered 
What bread wrappers reflect of our hunger, 


When you have forgotten wide-brimmed hats, 
   Sunday back-seat leather rides & church, 
The doorlock like a silver cane, the broad backs 
   Swaying or the great moan deep churning, 
   & the shimmer flick of flat sticks, the lurch 
Forward, skip, hands up Ailey-esque drop, 
When you have forgotten the meaningful bop, 


Hustlers and their care-what-may, blasé 
   Ballet and flight, when you have forgotten 
Scruffy yards, miniature escapes, the way   
   Laundry lines strung up sag like shortened 
   Smiles, when you have forgotten the Fish Man
Barking his catch in inches up the street 
"I've got porgies. I've got trout. Feeesh 


Man," or his scoop and chain scale, 
   His belief in shad and amberjack; when 
You have forgotten Ajax and tin pails, 
   Blue crystals frothing on marble front 
   Steps Saturday mornings, or the garden 
Of old men playing checkers, the curbs 
White-washed like two lines out to the burbs, 


Or the hopscotch squares painted new 
   In the street, the pitter-patter of feet 
Landing on rhymes. "How do you 
   Like the weather, girls? All in together girls,
   January, February, March, April... " 
The jump ropes' portentous looming, 
Their great, aching love blooming. 


When you have forgotten packs of grape 
   Flavored Now & Laters, the squares 
Of sugar flattening on the tongue, the elation 
   You felt reaching into the corner-store jar, 
   Grasping a handful of Blow Pops, candy bars 
With names you didn't recognize but came 
To learn. All the turf battles. All the war games. 


When you have forgotten popsicle stick 
   Races along the curb and hydrant fights,
Then, retrieve this letter from your stack 
   I've sent by clairvoyant post & read by light.
   For it brought me as much longing and delight. 
This week's Father's Day; I've a long ride to Philly.
I'll give this to Gramps, then head to Black Lily.