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.

From Harlem Shadows (New York, Harcourt, Brace and company, 1922) by Claude McKay. This poem is in the public domain.