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Self Portrait

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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—
Yeah—
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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Self Portrait

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  • 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 Monroe, who concluded in Poetry that its author was "a poet of authentic inspiration, who belongs not only among the best of his race, but who need not lean upon his race for recognition as an impassioned singer with something to say." Davis concerned himself with portraying Black life, protesting racial inequalities, and promoting Black pride. The poet described his work thus in the poem "Frank Marshall Davis: Writer" from his I Am the American Negro: "When I wrote / I dipped my...

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