The Love Letters of Helen Pitts Douglass

By Michael S. Harper b. 1938
When I stood behind his desk chair   
and when he sat, on rare occasions,   
on the porch, “sage of Anacostia,”   
they called him, I smelled his mane   
glorious, and as a hand saddle
the aroma of hair took me to neckline   
and below. In Egypt, long after   
Napoleon had shot off the face   
of the Sphinx, I thought of this   
man, and the cusp of his palms   
on my shoulder blades;
as always he was carrying the mail   
of gender, his touch immaculate   
in the true blend of the cortex,
and of the complex, risen on a pulpit,   
and after the hot air, wintry parlance,   
the syllables of my name in his ear,   
when he touched me, as he had touched   
me then.
            I had my suspicions of English   
ladies, actresses, ghosts of the Thames,   
concubines, as we had been into this next   
century. And they had their wiles with him.

I do not feel forbidden; the cameo ring   
he gave me, recession of his maleness   
all I need, and highlights of my dark   
profile, any children we might have   
had buried in architecture,
and the hate of his daughter Rosetta,   
who I have spoken to over the grate.

The sun rises and sets in our neighborhood:
I WILL BURN THESE. But when I place my fingers
in that mane it is to the saddle he will come.

Michael S. Harper, “The Love Letters of Helen Pitts Douglass” from Songlines in Michaeltree. Copyright © 2000 by Michael S. Harper. Reprinted with the permission of University of Illinois Press.

Source: Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 2000)

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Poet Michael S. Harper b. 1938

Subjects Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Love, Living, Marriage & Companionship, Relationships, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

 Michael S. Harper

Biography

Acclaimed poet and teacher Michael S. Harper was born in 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Known his innovative use of jazz rhythms, cultural allusion, historical referent and personal narrative, Harper is “a deeply complex poet whose mission is to unite the fractured, inhumane technologies of our time with the abiding deep well of Negro folk traditions,” said John Callahan in the New Republic. Harper does this, noted Poetry reviewer . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Love, Living, Marriage & Companionship, Relationships, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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