NOT UNTIL I’M 75 YEARS OLD DO I READ
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN
IN A SINGLE AFTERNOON, TELLING MY WIFE AT DINNER,
Karen, I’ve known about this book since high school,
But never read it. Listen. I take notes from first sentence,
...in writing the following pages I am divulging
The great secret of my life. The second paragraph
Reveals the regret in the book’s last paragraph.
Of course I read it next. Beginning again, his mother’s
Arms hold him, he becomes a solitary. He turns in
The wrong notebook in school…a book that cleared
The whole mystery…and who is this father? She’ll…
Someday…—and while I’m reading,
My brother calls, He’s just seen
This movie, a message of hope,
David Byrnes’ American Utopia,
Every song better than the last,
If you need hope, especially
The last one, a protest,
Say her name
Say his name
Spike Lee directs
We’re burning down the house
Byrnes says and this
This is a connection
To the other side.
‘of course, you could go in any place in the city,
they wouldn’t know you from white.’
Our author Learning language rolling cigars
Learning to speak by speaking.
Where vocabulary comes from.
One day his mother called him home.
This is your father. He promises a gift.
It’s a piano and you’ll never see him again.
But now you can talk to your mother,
And like Baldwin, you’ll get to Paris.
You’ll sit in a theatre watching Faust
Looking at a woman, imagining.
She’s young, beautiful, with her parents,
You’re there by accident looking
At her father, seeing, now, he’s yours’,
Too, this man you’ve seen once in your life.
Nothing is acknowledged.--
Another friend calls
Turn to The Tower,
Last section, beginning,
Now I shall make my soul…
Yeats is an old man
My friend tightens down the poem
Like he did with Williams’
Deleting ‘so much depends’
Now only this
Now I shall make my soul
However you make it
Repeating again, however
I would tell Karen
The story of the reading of this book
Reading it as James Weldon Johnson’s
Autobiography, misreading, because
I’d not known—published anonymously,
I’d not read enough—and I’d wake her
That night in bed, saying, I had it wrong,
The I in the story, it wasn’t Johnson,
It’s a book of fiction. Published that way.
And I got pulled in. Oh, man. This book.
Johnson knows the slave songs. It shows
In every piece of his work.
27 November 2020