A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters

By June Jordan 1936–2002 June Jordan
A few years back and they told me Black   
means a hole where other folks   
got brain/it was like the cells in the heads   
of Black children was out to every hour on the hour naps   
Scientists called the phenomenon the Notorious   
Jensen Lapse, remember?   
Anyway I was thinking   
about how to devise
a test for the wise
like a Stanford-Binet
for the C.I.A.
you know?
Take Einstein
being the most the unquestionable the outstanding
the maximal mind of the century
right?
And I’m struggling against this lapse leftover
from my Black childhood to fathom why
anybody should say so:
E=mc squared?
I try that on this old lady live on my block:
She sweeping away Saturday night from the stoop
and mad as can be because some absolute
jackass have left a kingsize mattress where
she have to sweep around it stains and all she
don’t want to know nothing about in the first place
“Mrs. Johnson!” I say, leaning on the gate
between us: “What you think about somebody come up
with an E equals M C 2?
“How you doin,” she answer me, sideways, like she don’t
want to let on she know I ain’
combed my hair yet and here it is
Sunday morning but still I have the nerve
to be bothering serious work with these crazy
questions about
E equals what you say again, dear?”
Then I tell her, “Well
also this same guy? I think
he was undisputed Father of the Atom Bomb!”
“That right.” She mumbles or grumbles, not too politely
“And dint remember to wear socks when he put on
his shoes!” I add on (getting desperate)
at which point Mrs. Johnson take herself and her broom
a very big step down the stoop away from me
“And never did nothing for nobody in particular
lessen it was a committee
and
used to say, ‘What time is it?’
and
you’d say, ‘Six o’clock.’
and
he’d say, ‘Day or night?’
and
and he never made nobody a cup a tea
in his whole brilliant life!
and
[my voice rises slightly]
and
he dint never boogie neither: never!”

“Well,” say Mrs. Johnson, “Well, honey,
I do guess
that’s genius for you.”

June Jordan, “A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust. Used by permission of The June M. Jordan Literary Trust, www.junejordan.com.

Source: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005)

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Poet June Jordan 1936–2002

Subjects Humor & Satire, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Arts & Sciences

 June  Jordan

Biography

One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed African American writers of her generation, poet, playwright and essayist June Jordan was also known for her fierce commitment to human rights and progressive political agenda. Over a career that produced twenty-seven volumes of poems, essays, libretti, and work for children, Jordan engaged the fundamental struggles of her era: over civil rights, women’s rights, and sexual . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Humor & Satire, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Arts & Sciences

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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