A Far Country

- 1880-1960

Beyond the cities I have seen,
Beyond the wrack and din,
There is a wide and fair demesne
Where I have never been.

Away from desert wastes of greed,
Over the peaks of pride,
Across the seas of mortal need
Its citizens abide.

And through the distance though I see
How stern must be the fare,
My feet are ever fain to be
Upon the journey there.

In that far land the only school
The dwellers all attend
Is built upon the Golden Rule,
And man to man is friend.

No war is there nor war’s distress,
But truth and love increase—
It is a realm of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.

More by Leslie Pinckney Hill

Summer Magic

So many cares to vex the day,
    So many fears to haunt the night,
My heart was all but weaned away
    From every lure of old delight.
Then summer came, announced by June,
    With beauty, miracle and mirth.
She hung aloft the rounding moon,
    She poured her sunshine on the earth,
She drove the sap and broke the bud,
    She set the crimson rose afire.
She stirred again my sullen blood,
    And waked in me a new desire.
Before my cottage door she spread
    The softest carpet nature weaves,
And deftly arched above my head
    A canopy of shady leaves.
Her nights were dreams of jeweled skies,
    Her days were bowers rife with song,
And many a scheme did she devise
    To heal the hurt and soothe the wrong.
For on the hill or in the dell,
    Or where the brook went leaping by
Or where the fields would surge and swell
    With golden wheat or bearded rye,
I felt her heart against my own,
    I breathed the sweetness of her breath,
Till all the cark of time had flown,
    And I was lord of life and death.

The Teacher

Lord, who am I to teach the way
To little children day by day,
So prone myself to go astray?

I teach them KNOWLEDGE, but I know
How faint they flicker and how low
The candles of my knowledge glow.

I teach them POWER to will and do,
But only now to learn anew
My own great weakness through and through.

I teach them LOVE for all mankind
And all God’s creatures, but I find
My love comes lagging far behind.

Lord, if their guide I still must be,
Oh let the little children see
The teacher leaning hard on Thee.

Tuskegee

Wherefore this busy labor without rest?
Is it an idle dream to which we cling,
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best.
By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.”
So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test?
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know—
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.

Related Poems

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.

The Tradition

Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer. 
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

Watch Us Elocute

June 18, 2015

So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Bublé & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around

in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present

in few strokes—when, into the room walks
this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman obviously

from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background
in nonprofit arts management. & without much coaxing

from me, really, none at all, she whoops, Gosh, you’re just
so well spoken! & I’m like, Duh, Son. So then we both

clink glasses, drink to whatever that was. Naturally,
not till the next morning & from under a scalding

shower do I shout: Yes, ma’am. Some of us does talk good!
to no one in particular but the drain holes. No one

but the off-white tile grout, the loofah’s yellow pores.
Because I come from a long braid of dangerous men

who learned to talk their way out of small compartments.
My own Spartan walls lined with their faces—Ellison

& Ellington. Langston, Robeson. Frederick Douglass
above the bench press in the gym, but to no avail—

Without fail, when I’m at the Cross Eyed Cricket
(That’s a real diner. It’s in Indiana.) & some pimple-

face ginger waiter lingers nervous & doth protest
too much, it’s always Sir, you ever been told you sound like

Bryant Gumbel? Which is cute. Because he’s probably
ten. But then sometimes I sit in his twin’s section, & he

once predicted I could do a really wicked impression
of Wayne Brady. I know for a fact his name is Jim.

I’ve got Jim’s eighteenth birthday blazed on my bedside
calendar. It reads: Ass whippin’. Twelve a.m.—& like

actually, that woman from the bimonthly
CV-building gala can kick rocks. Because she’s old

enough to be my mother, & educated, if only
by her own appraisal, but boy. Dear boys. Sweet

freckled What’s-His-Face & Dipshit Jim,
we can still be play friends. Your folks didn’t explain

I’d take your trinket praise as teeny blade—
a trillionth micro-aggression, against & beneath

my skin. Little buddies, that sore’s on me.
I know what you mean. That I must seem, “safe.”

But let’s get this straight. Let’s call a spade a—
Poor choice of words. Ali, I might not

be. Though, at the very least, a heavyweight
throwback: Nat King Cole singing silky

& subliminal about the unforgettable model
minority. NBC believed N at & his eloquence

could single-handedly defeat Jim Crow.
Fact: They were wrong. Of this I know

& not because they canceled his show
in ’57 after one season, citing insufficient

sponsorship. Or because, in 1948,
the KKK flamed a cross on his LA lawn.

But because yesterday, literally yesterday,
some simple American citizen—throwback

supremacist Straight Outta Birmingham, 1963—
aimed his .45 & emptied the life from nine

black believers at an AME church in Charleston.
Among them a pastor-senator, an elderly tenor,

beloved librarian, a barber with a business degree
who adored his mom & wrote poems about

the same age as me. I’m sorry. No, friends.
None of us is safe.