dverse · poetry · politics

To Mr. James Baldwin, With Love

James Baldwin

image link

Anmol is hosting dVerse this evening.  The topic tonight is privilege.  Anmol says:

You can approach the idea of privilege in different ways. You can either seek inspiration from these poets and their poems or reflect upon your own privileges and share them through a tapestry of images and metaphors along with a certain regard to what these privileges stand for in our society. You can also write about a cause which has personal meaning or significance for you — gender equality (women, transgender, and other non-binary identities), movements like Black Lives Matter & Me Too, uprooting class and caste divides, lgbtq+ rights, et al — keeping this one word in your consideration.

Last night I watched the documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro”, which is based on James Baldwin’s proposed book about the deaths of 3 of his friends and civil rights leaders, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and how each of them were murdered within 5 years time. The format of the movie was video clips of Baldwin himself speaking and mixed media with Samuel L Jackson narrating passages from Baldwin’s work.

My free verse poem is written from the perspective of Mr. James Baldwin, where no disrespect is meant, in that I could never see things from his perspective.  It is written with sorrow and with love and admiration.

Update 2/20/19:  I received excellent feedback from Sabio Lantz and Bjorn Rudberg on the format and content and decided to rework it in light of the feedback.  The revised version feels more complete to me.

Update 2, 2/20/19:  I’ve changed this a few times since yesterday. Now it is James, in an open message to God. It may change yet again, but here is its form for now.

God you’re a sick bastard, you know.

You gave me brains and a heart as big as the sky.

You saw fit to put me under the tender tutelage of a kind white woman.

Like a black duckling, I imprinted on her and flourished as the son of her white light,

Knowing that only later would I learn she was called race traitor,

hated by her own kind. That I would learn about the rest, rotten inside and out,

on a mission to erase us, keep our necks under their boots, or silenced, in the ghettos.

Each time I walked past the open caskets of the prophets who once breathed

to lead us from our terminal, relegated status of scapegoated other,

again saw the sorrow-drenched faces of their children, the anguish of their loved ones,

my wings weighed oh so heavy, as you know.

You knew what you had done to me. Knew I, now a raging black swan,

could strike them down with the laser beams in my eyes and words –

and knew if I did, no doubt, my blood would also soon stain balconies and carports.

These thoughts weighed heavily, as you know.

Then, my pen held steadfast and true, tempered with strange empathy for the monsters.

Sloughing the monsters’ burden from my wings, my sky-sized heart kept beating

with the blood of the dead – onward I flew, alive, my aim true.



78 thoughts on “To Mr. James Baldwin, With Love

  1. Yes, I like it better but you processor seems to still put to many unnecessary empty line returns. May it is hard for you to control. Look at the way I did it and your present result.
    Oh, and if you prefer it all broken up into tiny lines, by all means do as you wish. I’m going to sign off now. email me if you need more feedback. Best Wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very elegantly done, Jade. There’s one line where I loose scansion and I have a little trouble with keeping the phrasing:
    to lead us from our terminal, relegated status of scapegoated other,

    Have you read this aloud? I’ve got a nudge in my brain saying that it might be smoother as “terminally relegated status” rather than “terminal, relegated.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I must see this film! Thank you!
    In 1972 – 1974 I created and taught a course in African American Literature in a rural all-white Iowa high school. Included in required reading was The Autobiography of Malcom X, To Be a Slave by Julius Lester, and poetry by Langston Hughes — among other required assigments. Each student also had to choose one book among many I had on my shelf, to read and write a comprehensive analysis about it and their reaction to it. Included were Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name by Baldwin; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Black Like Me.

    Your line “Sloughing the monsters’ burden from my wings,” is quite amazing when one thinks of Baldwin’s life and taking up the pen. This is an excellent write!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lillian, thank you for your insight on the poem. I sincerely commend you for teaching what you taught at the school. It is what education should be all about. I haven’t read any of those books, but I should. I did read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by him and it profoundly affected me. His eloquence is astounding in how he tells his life story. I need to learn more about Medgar Evens (he’s just a name to me now) as well as Malcolm X. I’ve read some of MLK Jr.’s writings and am most familiar with him.


  5. And I like yours 🙂 When I think of reshuffling the priorities I’m reminded of that song by Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”… There’s got to be a rudder/navigator in there somewhere?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.