Madam’s Past History

My name is Johnson—
Madam Alberta K.
The Madam stands for business.   
I’m smart that way.

I had a
HAIR-DRESSING PARLOR   
Before
The depression put
The prices lower.

Then I had a
BARBECUE STAND   
Till I got mixed up   
With a no-good man.

Cause I had a insurance   
The WPA
Said, We can’t use you   
Wealthy that way.

I said,
DON’T WORRY ’BOUT ME!
Just like the song,
You WPA folks take care of yourself—
And I’ll get along.

I do cooking,
Day’s work, too!
Alberta K. Johnson—
Madam to you.

Langston Hughes, “Madam’s Past History” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Source: Selected Poems (Vintage Books, 1959)
More Poems by Langston Hughes