Self Portrait

By Frank Marshall Davis 1905–1987
I would be
A painter with words
Creating sharp portraits
On the wide canvas of your mind   
Images of those things
Shaped through my eyes
That interest me;
But being a Tenth American   
In this democracy
I sometimes sketch a miniature   
Though I contract for a mural.

Of course
You understand this democracy;
One man as good as another,
From log cabin to White House,
Poor boy to corporation president,   
Hoover and Browder with one vote each,   
A free country,
Complete equality—
And the rich get tax refunds,
The poor get relief checks.

As for myself
I pay five cents for a daily synopsis of current history,
Two bits and the late lowdown on Hollywood,
Twist a dial for Stardust or Shostakovich,
And with each bleacher stub I reserve the right to shout “kill the bum” at the umpire—
Wherefore am I different
From nine other Americans?

But listen, you
Don’t worry about me
I rate!
I’m Convert 4711 at Beulah Baptist Church,   
I’m Social Security No. 337-16-3458 in Washington,
Thank you Mister God and Mister Roosevelt!
And another thing:—
No matter what happens
I too can always call in a policeman!

Frank Marshall Davis, “Self Portrait” from Black Moods: Collected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by the Trustees of the University of Illinois. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Source: Black Moods (University of Illinois Press, 1948)

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Poet Frank Marshall Davis 1905–1987

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Frank Marshall Davis


Frank Marshall Davis's poetry "not only questioned social ills in his own time but also inspired Blacks in the politically charged 1960s," according to John Edgar Tidwell in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Sometimes likened to poets such as Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, and Langston Hughes, Davis published his first volume, Black Man's Verse, in 1935. The book met with much applause from critics, including Harriet . . .

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Poems by Frank Marshall Davis

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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