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Authors: James Baldwin

Jimmy's Blues

BOOK: Jimmy's Blues
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Copyright © 1983, 1985. by James Baldwin. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press. 175 Fifth Avenue. New York. N.Y. 10010

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publicalion Data

Baldwin, James.

Jimmy’s blues : selected poems / James Baldwin

p. cm.

ISBN 0-312-05104-2 (paperback)

ISBN 0-312-44247-5 (hardcover!

I. Title.

[PS3552.A45J5 1990]




First U.S. Paperback Edition: December 1990

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Staggerlee wonders

I always wonder

what they think the niggers are doing

while they, the pink and alabaster pragmatists,

are containing


and defining and re-defining and re-aligning


nobly restraining themselves, meanwhile,

from blowing up that earth

which they have already

blasphemed into dung:

the gentle, wide-eyed, cheerful

ladies, and their men,

nostalgic for the noble cause of Vietnam,

nostalgic for noble causes,

aching, nobly, to wade through the blood of savages -

ah - !

Uncas shall never leave the reservation,

except to purchase whisky at the State Liquor Store.

The Panama Canal shall remain forever locked:

there is a way around every treaty.

We will turn the tides of the restless


the sun will rise, and set

on our hotel balconies as we see fit.

The natives will have nothing to complain about,

indeed, they will begin to be grateful,

will be better off than ever before.

They will learn to defer gratification

and save up for things, like we do.

Oh, yes. They will.

We have only to make an offer

they cannot refuse.

This flag has been planted on the moon:

it will be interesting to see

what steps the moon will take to be revenged

for this quite breathtaking presumption.

This people

masturbate in winding sheets.

They have hacked their children to pieces.

They have never honoured a single treaty

made with anyone, anywhere.

The walls of their cities

are as foul as their children.

No wonder their children come at them with knives.

Mad Charlie man’s son was one of their children,

had got his shit together

by the time he left kindergarten,

and, as for Patty, heiress of all the ages,

she had the greatest vacation

of any heiress, anywhere:

Golly-gee, whillikens, Mom, real guns!

and they come with a real big, black funky stud, too:

oh, Ma! he’s making eyes at me!

Oh, noble Duke Wayne,

be careful in them happy hunting grounds.

They say the only good Indian

is a dead Indian,

but what I say is,

you can’t be too careful, you hear?

Oh, towering Ronnie Reagan,

wise and resigned lover of redwoods,

deeply beloved, winning man-child of the yearning Republic,

from diaper to football field to Warner Brothers


be thou our grinning, gently phallic, Big Boy of all the ages!

Salt peanuts, salt peanuts,

for dear hearts and gentle people,

and cheerful, shining, simple Uncle Sam!

Nigger, read this and run!

Now, if you can’t read,

run anyhow!

From Manifest Destiny

Cortez, and all his men

silent upon a peak in Darien)

to A Decent Interval,

and the chopper rises above Saigon,

abandoning the noble cause

and the people we have made ignoble

and whom we leave there, now, to die,

one moves, With All Deliberate Speed,

to the South China Sea, and beyond,

where millions of new niggers

await glad tidings!

said the Great Man’s Lady,

I’m against abortion.

I always feel that’s killing somebody.

Well, what about capital punishment?

I think the death penalty helps.

That’s right.

Up to our ass in niggers

on Death Row.

Oh, Susanna,

don’t you cry for me!


Well, I guess what the niggers

is supposed to be doing

is putting themselves in the path

of that old sweet chariot

and have it swing down and carry us home.

That would
as they say,

and they got ways

of sort of nudging the chariot.

They still got influence

with Wind and Water,

though they in for some surprises

with Cloud and Fire.

My days are not their days.

My ways are not their ways.

I would not think of them,

one way or the other,

did not they so grotesquely

block the view

between me and my brother.

And, so, I always wonder:

can blindness be desired?

Then, what must the blinded eyes have seen

to wish to see no more!

For, I have seen,

in the eyes regarding me,

or regarding my brother,

have seen, deep in the farthest valley

of the eye, have seen

a flame leap up, then flicker and go out,

have seen a veil come down,

leaving myself, and the other,

alone in that cave

which every soul remembers, and

out of which, desperately afraid,

I turn, turn, stagger, stumble out,

into the healing air,

fall flat on the healing ground,

singing praises, counselling

my heart, my soul, to praise.

What is it that this people

cannot forget?

Surely, they cannot be so deluded

as to imagine that their crimes

are original?

There is nothing in the least original

about the fiery tongs to the eyeballs,

the sex tom from the socket,

the infant ripped from the womb,

the brains dashed out against rock,

nothing original about Judas,

or Peter, or you or me: nothing:

we are liars and cowards all,

or nearly all, or nearly all the time:

for we also ride the lightning,

answer the thunder, penetrate whirlwinds,

curl up on the floor of the sun,

and pick our teeth with thunderbolts.

Then, perhaps they imagine

that their crimes are not crimes?


Perhaps that is why they cannot repent,

why there is no possibility of repentance.

Manifest Destiny is a hymn to madness,

feeding on itself, ending

(when it ends) in madness:

the action is blindness and pain,

pain bringing a torpor so deep

that every act is willed,

is desperately forced,

is willed to be a blow:

the hand becomes a fist,

the prick becomes a club,

the womb a dangerous swamp,

the hope, and fear, of love

is acid in the marrow of the bone.

No, their fire is not quenched,

nor can be: the oil feeding the flames

being the unadmitted terror of the wrath of God.

Yes. But let us put it in another,

less theological way:

though theology has absolutely nothing to do

with what I am trying to say.

But the moment God is mentioned

theology is summoned

to buttress or demolish belief:

an exercise which renders belief irrelevant

and adds to the despair of Fifth Avenue

on any afternoon,

the people moving, homeless, through the city,

praying to find sanctuary before the sky

and the towers come tumbling down,

before the earth opens, as it does in

They know that no one will appear

to turn back time,

they know it, just as they know

that the earth has opened before

and will open again, just as they know

that their empire is falling, is doomed,

nothing can hold it up, nothing.

We are not talking about belief.


I wonder how they think

the niggers made, make it,

how come the niggers are still here.

But, then, again, I don’t think they dare

to think of that: no:

I’m fairly certain they don’t think of that at all.


I watch the alabaster lady of the house,

with Beulah.

Beulah about sixty, built four-square,

biceps like Mohammed Ali,

she at the stove, fixing biscuits,

scrambling eggs and bacon, fixing coffee,

pouring juice, and the lady of the house,

she say, she don’t know

she’d get along without Beulah

and Beulah just silently grunts,

I reckon you don’t

and keeps on keeping on

and the lady of the house say,

She’s just like one of the family,

and Beulah turns, gives me a look,

sucks her teeth and rolls her eyes

in the direction of the lady’s back, and

keeps on keeping on.

While they are containing


and entering onto the quicksand of


and patronizing


and calculating

the Caribbean plunder, and

the South China Sea booty,

the niggers are aware that no one has discussed

anything at all with the niggers.

Well. Niggers don’t own nothing,

got no flag, even our names

are hand-me-downs

and you don’t change that

by calling yourself X:

sometimes that just makes it worse,

like obliterating the path that leads back

to whence you came, and

to where you can begin.

And, anyway, none of this changes the reality,

which is, for example, that I do not want my son

to die in Guantanamo,

or anywhere else, for that matter,

serving the Stars and Stripes.

some stars.

some stripes.)

Neither (incidentally)

has anyone discussed the Bomb with the niggers:

the incoherent feeling is, the less

the nigger knows about the Bomb, the better:

the lady of the house

smiles nervously in your direction

as though she had just been overheard

discussing family, or sexual secrets,

and changes the subject to Education,

or Full Employment, or the Welfare rolls,

the smile saying,
Don’t be dismayed.

We know how you feel. You can trust us.

Yeah. I would like to believe you.

But we are not talking about belief.


The sons of greed, the heirs of plunder,

are approaching the end of their journey:

it is amazing that they approach without wonder,

as though they have, themselves, become

that scorched and blasphemed earth,

the stricken buffalo, the slaughtered tribes,

the endless, virgin, bloodsoaked plain,

the famine, the silence, the children’s eyes,

murder masquerading as salvation,

seducing every democratic eye,

the mouths of truth and anguish choked with cotton,

rape delirious with the fragrance of magnolia,

the hacking of the fruit of their loins to pieces,

the tar-baby sons and nephews, the high-yaller nieces,

and Tom’s black prick hacked off

to rustle in the crinoline,

to hang, heaviest of heirlooms,

between the pink and alabaster breasts

of the Great Man’s Lady,

or worked into the sash at the waist

of the high-yaller Creole bitch, or niece,

a chunk of shining brown-black satin,

staring, staring, like the single eye of God:

BOOK: Jimmy's Blues
9.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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