Seventh Street

By Jean Toomer 1894–1967 Jean Toomer
Money burns the pocket, pocket hurts,
          Bootleggers in silken shirts,
          Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs,
          Whizzing, whizzing down the street-car tracks.

   Seventh Street is a bastrad of Prohibition and the War. A crude-boned, soft-skinned wedge of nigger life breathing its loafer air, jazz songs and love, thrusting unconscious rhythms, black reddish blood into the white and whitewashed wood of Washington. Stale soggy wood of Washington. Wedges rust in soggy wood. . . Split it! In two! Again! Shred it! . . the sun. Wedges are brilliant in the sun; ribbons of wet wood dry and blow away. Black reddish blood. Pouring for crude-boned soft-skinned life, who set you flowing? Blood suckers of the War would spin in a frenzy of dizziness if they drank your blood. Prohibition would put a stop to it. Who set you flowing? White and whitewash disappear in blood. Who set you flowing? Flowing down the smooth asphalt of Seventh Street, in shanties, brick office buildings, theaters, drug stores, restaurants, and cabarets? Eddying on the corners? Swirling like a blood-red smoke up where the buzzards fly in heaven? God would not dare to suck black red blood. A Nigger God! He would duck his head in shame and call for the Judgement Day. Who set you flowing?

          Money burns the pocket, pocket hurts,
          Bootleggers in silken shirts,
          Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs,
          Whizzing, whizzing down the street-car tracks.

Jean Toomer, “Seventh Street” from Cane. Copyright © 1923 by Boni & Liveright, renewed 1951 by Jean Toomer. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Source: Cane (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1993)

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Poet Jean Toomer 1894–1967

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity, Class, Cities & Urban Life

 Jean  Toomer

Biography

An important figure in African-American literature, Jean Toomer (1894—1967) was born in Washington, DC, the grandson of the first governor of African-American descent in the United States. A poet, playwright, and novelist, Toomer’s most famous work, Cane, was published in 1923 and was hailed by critics for its literary experimentation and portrayal of African-American characters and culture.

As a child, Toomer attended both . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity, Class, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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