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Best Famous Etheridge Knight Poems

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by Etheridge Knight |

The Violent Space (Or When Your Sister Sleeps Around For Money)

 Exchange in greed the ungraceful signs.
Thrust The thick notes between green apple breasts.
Then the shadow of the devil descends, The violent space cries and angel eyes, Large and dark, retreat in innocence and in ice.
(Run sister run—the Bugga man comes!) The violent space cries silently, Like you cried wide years ago In another space, speckled by the sun And the leaves of a green plum tree, And you were stung By a red wasp and we flew home.
(Run sister run—the Bugga man comes!) Well, hell, lil sis, wasps still sting.
You are all of seventeen and as alone now In your pain as you were with the sting On your brow.
Well, shit.
lil sis, here we are: You and I and this poem.
And what should I do? should I squat In the dust and make strange markings on the ground? Shall I chant a spell to drive the demon away? (Run sister run—the Bugga man comes!) In the beginning you were the Virgin Mary, And you are the Virgin Mary now.
But somewhere between Nazareth and Bethlehem You lost your name in the nameless void.
"O Mary don't you weep don't you moan" O Mary shake your butt to the violent juke, Absord the demon puke and watch the whites eyes pop, (Run sister run—the Bugga man comes!) And what do I do.
I boil my tears in a twisted spoon And dance like an angel on the point of a needle.
I sit counting syllables like Midas gold.
I am not bold.
I cannot yet take hold of the demon And lift his weight from you black belly, So I grab the air and sing my song.
(But the air cannot stand my singing long.
)


by Etheridge Knight |

Dark Prophecy: I Sing Of Shine

 And, yeah brothers
while white America sings about the unsinkable molly brown
(who was hustling the titanic
when it went down)
I sing to thee of Shine
the stoker who was hip enough to flee the fucking ship
and let the white folks drown
with screams on their lips
(jumped his black ass into the dark sea, Shine did,
broke free from the straining steel).
Yeah, I sing to thee of Shine and how the millionaire banker stood on the deck and pulled from his pockets a million dollar check saying Shine Shine save poor me and I'll give you all the money a black boy needs— how Shine looked at the money and then at the sea and said jump in muthafucka and swim like me— and Shine swam on—Shine swam on— and how the banker's daughter ran naked on the deck with her pink tits trembling and her pants roun her neck screaming Shine Shine save poor me and I'll give you all the pussy a black boy needs— how Shine said now pussy is good and that's no jive but you got to swim not fuck to stay alive— And Shine swam on Shine Swam on— How Shine swam past a preacher afloating on a board crying save me nigger Shine in the name of the Lord— and how the preacher grabbed Shine's arm and broke his stroke— how Shine pulled his shank and cut the preacher's throat— And Shine swam on—Shine swam on— And when news hit shore that the titanic had sunk Shine was up in Harlem damn near drunk—


by Etheridge Knight |

Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminal Insane

 Hard Rock/ was/ "known not to take no shit 
From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick 
Canopy of kinky hair.
The WORD/ was/ that Hard Rock wasn't a mean nigger Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head, Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity Through the rest.
When they brought Hard Rock back, Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose, Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.
and we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep, To see if the WORD was true.
As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak Of his exploits: "Man, the last time, it took eight Screws to put him in the Hole.
" "Yeah, remember when he Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?" "he set The record for time in the Hole-67 straight days!" "Ol Hard Rock! man, that's one crazy nigger.
" And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.
The testing came to see if Hard Rock was really tame.
A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch And didn't lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock >From before shook him down and barked in his face And Hard Rock did nothing.
Just grinned and look silly.
His empty eyes like knot holes in a fence.
And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his name, we told ourselves that he had just wised up, Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long.
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground.
Crushed.
He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do.
The fears of years like a biting whip, Had cut deep bloody grooves Across our backs.


by Etheridge Knight |

The Idea of Ancestry

 Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.
They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.
I know their dark eyes, they know mine.
I know their style, they know mine.
I am all of them, they are all of me; they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.
I have at one time or another been in love with my mother, 1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum), and 5 cousins.
I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece (she sends me letters in large block print, and her picture is the only one that smiles at me).
I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews, and 1 uncle.
The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took off and caught a freight (they say).
He's discussed each year when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in the clan, he is an empty space.
My father's mother, who is 93 and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates (and death dates) in it, always mentions him.
There is no place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown.
"


by Etheridge Knight |

A Poem For Myself

 (or Blues for a Mississippi Black Boy)

I was born in Mississippi;
I walked barefooted thru the mud.
Born black in Mississippi, Walked barefooted thru the mud.
But, when I reached the age of twelve I left that place for good.
My daddy chopped cotton And he drank his liquor straight.
Said my daddy chopped cotton And he drank his liquor straight.
When I left that Sunday morning He was leaning on the barnyard gate.
Left my mama standing With the sun shining in her eyes.
Left her standing in the yard With the sun shining in her eyes.
And I headed North As straight as the Wild Goose Flies, I been to Detroit & Chicago Been to New York city too.
I been to Detroit & Chicago Been to New York city too.
Said I done strolled all those funky avenues I'm still the same old black boy with the same old blues.
Going back to Mississippi This time to stay for good Going back to Mississippi This time to stay for good- Gonna be free in Mississippi Or dead in the Mississippi mud.


by Etheridge Knight |

As You Leave Me

 Shiny record albums scattered over
the living room floor, reflecting light
from the lamp, sharp reflections that hurt
my eyes as I watch you, squatting among the platters, 
the beer foam making mustaches on your lips.
And, too, the shadows on your cheeks from your long lashes fascinate me--almost as much as the dimples in your cheeks, your arms and your legs.
You hum along with Mathis--how you love Mathis! with his burnished hair and quicksilver voice that dances among the stars and whirls through canyons like windblown snow, sometimes I think that Mathis could take you from me if you could be complete without me.
I glance at my watch.
It is now time.
You rise, silently, and to the bedroom and the paint; on the lips red, on the eyes black, and I lean in the doorway and smoke, and see you grow old before my eyes, and smoke, why do you chatter while you dress? and smile when you grab your large leather purse? don't you know that when you leave me I walk to the window and watch you? and light a reefer as I watch you? and I die as I watch you disappear in the dark streets to whistle and smile at the johns


by Etheridge Knight |

Feeling Fucked Up

 Lord she's gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs--

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcom fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing