Harvest Song

- 1894-1967

I am a reaper whose muscles set at sundown. All my oats are
       cradled.
But I am too chilled, and too fatigued to bind them. And I
       hunger.

I crack a grain between my teeth. I do not taste it.
I have been in the fields all day. My throat is dry. I hunger.

My eyes are caked with dust of oatfields at harvest-time.
I am a blind man who stares across the hills, seeking stack’d
       fields of other harvesters.

It would be good to see them . . . crook’d, split, and iron-ring’d
       handles of the scythes. It would be good to see them, dust-
       caked and blind. I hunger.

(Dusk is a strange fear’d sheath their blades are dull’d in.)
My throat is dry. And should I call, a cracked grain like the oats
       . . . eoho—

I fear to call. What should they hear me, and offer me their
       grain, oats, or wheat, or corn? I have been in the field
       all day. I fear I could not taste it. I fear knowledge of my
       hunger.

My ears are caked with dust of oatfields at harvest-time.
I am a deaf man who strains to hear the calls of other harvesters
       whose throats are also dry.

It would be good to hear their songs . . . reapers of the sweet-
       stalk’d cane, cutters of the corn . . . even though their
       throats cracked and the strangeness of their voices deafened
       me.

I hunger. My throat is dry. Now that the sun has set and I am
       chilled, I fear to call. (Eoho, my brothers!)

I am a reaper. (Eoho!) All my oats are cradled. But I am too
       fatigued to bind them. And I hunger. I crack a grain. It has
       no taste to it. My throat is dry . . .

O my brothers, I beat my palms, still soft, against the stubble of
       my harvesting. (You beat your soft palms, too.) My pain is
       sweet. Sweeter than the oats or wheat or corn. It will not
       bring me knowledge of my hunger.

More by Jean Toomer

Prayer

My body is opaque to the soul.
Driven of the spirit, long have I sought to temper it unto the
        spirit’s longing, 
But my mind, too, is opaque to the soul. 
A closed lid is my soul’s flesh-eye. 
O Spirits of whom my soul is but a little finger,
Direct it to the lid of its flesh-eye.
I am weak with much giving. 
I am weak with the desire to give more. 
(How strong a thing is the little finger!)
So weak that I have confused the body with the soul, 
And the body with the little finger. 
(How frail is the little finger.)
My voice could not carry to you did you dwell in stars, 
O Spirits of whom my soul is but a little finger . . . 
 

Conversion

African Guardian of Souls, 
Drunk with rum, 
Feasting on a strange cassava, 
Yielding to new words and a weak palabra
Of a white-faced sardonic god—
Grins, cries
Amen, 
Shouts hosanna. 
 

Face

Hair—
silver-gray, 
like streams of stars, 
Brows—
recurved canoes
quivered by the ripples blown by pain, 
Her eyes—
mist of tears
condensing on the flesh below
And her channeled muscles
are cluster grapes of sorrow
purple in the evening sun
nearly ripe for worms.