Authors: James Baldwin
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
Jimmy’s blues : selected poems / James Baldwin
ISBN 0-312-05104-2 (paperback)
ISBN 0-312-44247-5 (hardcover!
First U.S. Paperback Edition: December 1990
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I always wonder
what they think the niggers are doing
while they, the pink and alabaster pragmatists,
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.
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,
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.
Up to our ass in niggers
on Death Row.
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.
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
Surely, they cannot be so deluded
as to imagine that their crimes
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,
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
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
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.
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: