353: For My People

353: For My People

353: For My People

For My People
by Margaret Walker

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For my people everywhere singing their slave songs
    repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues
     and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an
     unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an
     unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the
     gone years and the now years and the maybe years,
     washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending
     hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching
     dragging along never gaining never reaping never
     knowing and never understanding;

For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama
     backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor
     and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking
     and playhouse and concert and store and hair and Miss
     Choomby and company;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
     to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
     people who and the places where and the days when, in
     memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we
     were black and poor and small and different and nobody
     cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to
     be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and
     play and drink their wine and religion and success, to
     marry their playmates and bear children and then die
     of consumption and anemia and lynching;

For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox
     Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New
     Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy
     people filling the cabarets and taverns and other
     people’s pockets needing bread and shoes and milk and
     land and money and something—something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time
     being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when
     burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled
     and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures
     who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;

For my people blundering and groping and floundering in
     the dark of churches and schools and clubs and
     societies, associations and councils and committees and
     conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and
     devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches,
     preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by
     false prophet and holy believer;

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
     from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
     trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
     all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
     bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
     generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
     loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
     healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
     in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
     be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
     rise and take control.

"For My People," by Margaret Walker, from THIS IS MY CENTURY: NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS by Margaret Walker, copyright © 2013 University of Georgia Press. Used by permission of University of Georgia Press.