I pledged at the beginning of April to post poetry that engaged in the conversation about race in America. I didn’t quite meet my goal of several posts a week, but NaPoMo is a busy time.
And then all hell broke loose in Baltimore — and so many people were saying things — poetry seemed like it might be a very small voice among all that noise. Searching online for “Baltimore + poetry” brings up many voices and images; I share two poems that seem horribly relevant.
First, this poem, called “Incident” by Countee Cullen, about a moment of racism in the early 20th century.
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
- NPR’s collection of “virtual poetry readings” for Freddie Gray
- Anthony Reliford’s powerful spoken word poem (you can hear him read it)