Grandmother, May I



I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes, “The Negro speaks of Rivers” (1922)




I have grown old on this plantation

With my children in the cotton fields.

The snow has taken my heart

And the summer has taken my fear.

My old bones are creaking lovely

For the day I thought I was born

I would be a free black bird 

But I am trapped, tortured, and forlorn. 

But over the white fence, I see the river.

I see the river and it calms me so.




I have seen you birth babes. 

Babes, so dark, so young,

Who know nothing but the sun on their back

And a whip at their hides

And the master at their tongues.

Have you seen my Grandmother?

My Grandmother has seen the rivers.

She’s run on the African soil.

She’s fed the babes of the world.

She’s grown her hair long 

To wade in the river.




I have seen you run through the field.

Running from your Mother,

Running from your Grandmother,

Running from the master’s whip

And straight into the river.

You’ve become one with the river

And it calms me so.


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