Flame-Heart

- 1889-1948

So much have I forgotten in ten years,
  So much in ten brief years; I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice
  And what month brings the shy forget-me-not;
Forgotten is the special, startling season
  Of some beloved tree’s flowering and fruiting,
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields
  And fill the noonday with their curious fluting:
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.

I still recall the honey-fever grass,
  But I cannot bring back to mind just when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path
  To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month
  The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow bye road mazing from the main,
  Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple:
I have forgotten, strange, but quite remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.

What weeks, what months, what time o’ the mild year
  We cheated school to have our fling at tops?
What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
  Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?
Oh, some I know! I have embalmed the days,
  Even the sacred moments, when we played,
All innocent of passion uncorrupt.
  At noon and evening in the flame-heart’s shade:
We were so happy, happy,—I remember
Beneath the poinsettia’s red in warm December.

More by Claude McKay

The Barrier

I must not gaze at them although 
  Your eyes are dawning day; 
I must not watch you as you go 
  Your sun-illumined way; 

I hear but I must never heed 
  The fascinating note, 
Which, fluting like a river reed, 
  Comes from your trembing throat; 

I must not see upon your face 
  Love's softly glowing spark; 
For there's the barrier of race, 
  You're fair and I am dark.

The City's Love

For one brief golden moment rare like wine, 
The gracious city swept across the line; 
Oblivious of the color of my skin, 
Forgetting that I was an alien guest, 
She bent to me, my hostile heart to win, 
Caught me in passion to her pillowy breast; 
The great, proud city, seized with a strange love, 
Bowed down for one flame hour my pride to prove. 

Harlem Shadows

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
     In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
     To bend and barter at desire's call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street!

Through the long night until the silver break
     Of day the little gray feet know no rest;
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake
     Has dropped from heaven upon the earth's white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
     Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
Has pushed the timid little feet of clay,
     The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.

Related Poems

The Gift to Sing

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
      I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
       And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
       And I can sing.