Birthday Poem

By Al Young b. 1939 Al Young
First light of day in Mississippi
son of laborer & of house wife
it says so on the official photostat
not son of fisherman & child fugitive
from cottonfields & potato patches
from sugarcane chickens & well-water
from kerosene lamps & watermelons
mules named jack or jenny & wagonwheels,
 
years of meaningless farm work
work Work WORK WORK WORK—
“Papa pull you outta school bout March
to stay on the place & work the crop”
—her own earliest knowledge
of human hopelessness & waste
 
She carried me around nine months
inside her fifteen year old self
before here I sit numbering it all
 
How I got from then to now
is the mystery that could fill a whole library
much less an arbitrary stanza
 
But of course you already know about that
from your own random suffering
& sudden inexplicable bliss

Al Young, “Birthday Poem” from The Blues Don’t Change. Copyright © 1982 by Al Young. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: The Blues Don’t Change (Louisiana State University Press, 1982)

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Poet Al Young b. 1939

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Al  Young

Biography

Poet, novelist, and professor Al Young was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He attended the University of Michigan before moving to the San Francisco Bay area, where he earned a BA in Spanish from the University of California-Berkeley. Young often reads to musical accompaniment, and his poetry reflects his interest in music, specifically jazz and blues, as well as his life in California. His collections of poetry are . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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