Brass Spittoons

Clean the spittoons, boy.
      Detroit,
      Chicago,
      Atlantic City,
      Palm Beach.
Clean the spittoons.
The steam in hotel kitchens,
And the smoke in hotel lobbies,
And the slime in hotel spittoons:
Part of my life.
      Hey, boy!
      A nickel,
      A dime,
      A dollar,
Two dollars a day.
      Hey, boy!
      A nickel,
      A dime,
      A dollar,
      Two dollars
Buy shoes for the baby.
House rent to pay.
Gin on Saturday,
Church on Sunday.
      My God!
Babies and gin and church
And women and Sunday
All mixed with dimes and
Dollars and clean spittoons
And house rent to pay.
      Hey, boy!
A bright bowl of brass is beautiful to the Lord.
Bright polished brass like the cymbals
Of King David’s dancers,
Like the wine cups of Solomon.
      Hey, boy!
A clean spittoon on the altar of the Lord.
A clean bright spittoon all newly polished—
At least I can offer that.
      Com’mere, boy!

Langston Hughes, “Brass Spittoons” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Source: Collected Poems (Vintage Books, 1994)
More Poems by Langston Hughes