Doubt not

the artist and his age

(though bald as the pilled head of garlic),

married or divorced

and even vying downstage,

are both aware

that God or Caesar is the handle

to the camel’s hair.


Ye weeping monkeys of the Critics’ Circus

(colorless as malic acid in a Black Hamburg grape),

what profit it to argue at the wake

(a hurrah’s nest of food and wine

with Auld Lang Syne

to cheer the dead),

if the artist wrought

(contrary to what the black sanders said)

for Ars’,

the Cathedra’s, or the Agora’s sake?

No critic a Gran Galeoto

between the Art-lover and the work of art,

the world-self of the make-

believe becomes the swimming pool of a class,

the balsam apple

of the soul and by the soul and for the soul,

or silvered Scarahaeus glass

in which Necessity’s figuranti of innocence and guilt

mirror themselves as they pass.


If brass,

in the name

of Id or Sinai or Helicon, wakes up the trumpet,

is it to blame?



the moment’s mistone

and the milieu’s groan

sharp an unbearable ache

in the f of the age’s bone,

this pain is only the ghost of the pain

the artist endures,


—like Everyman—



The artist


a zinnia


first frost

blackens with a cloven hoof;

an eyeglass

—in the eye of a dusty wind—

to study the crosses and tangles in warp and woof;

an evergreen cherry

parasitic upon a winter sun;

a paltry thing with varicose veins

when the twelve fatigues are done.


Under the Lesbian rule of the seeress Nix,

blood and black bile


in the second of a bestiary-goat’s caprice,


the artist’s undivorceable spouse


a Delilah of Délice


a Xanthippe bereft

of sonnets from the Portuguese.


In Chronos Park

the Ars-powered Ferris wheel revolves

through golden age and dark

as historied isms rise and fall

and the purple of the doctor’s robe

(ephemeral as the flesh color of the fame flower)

is translated into the coffin’s pall.


The St. John’s agony

of the artist

in his gethsemane

without a St. John’s fire—

the Vedic god of the snaky noose discovers;

his far far cry,

like the noise of block tin,

crackles the sky:

“Wayfaring man

unneighbored by

a wayfaring tree

(though one may rue

this bark of the Moreton Bay laurel),

it is true

a something trans-Brow or cis-Brow

—or both—

wills one to the wings of the eagle,

or to the teats of the sow.

Yet, no lip need sneer to the beard of an ape of God,

‘Thou thing of no bowels, thou!’

So, I say as the Sire

who chastens and rewards,

‘Let thy blue eyes

resist white stars of red desire.’”


Like the shape of Africa,

the raison d’étre of Art is a question mark:

without the true flight of the bat,

it is a hanker in the dark.

Not as face answers face in water,

but as windows answer each other,

one viewer,

lyrical as Hafiz in his cups,

discovers a lark;

his companion,

flat as an open Gladstone bag,

spies out an ark.


The blow of a fist on the nape,

this question came from a Dog,

“What color can escape

the fluky flues in the cosmic flux?”

Perhaps the high-C answer lies

in the wreck the sea sucks

back into her bowels. Let

the Say be said:

“In Philae the color is blue;

in Deir-el-Baheri, red;

in Abydos, yellow—

and these are by the ravens fed.”



is not barrel copper easily separated

from the matrix;

it is not fresh tissues

—for microscopic study—

one may fix;

unique as the white tiger’s

pink paws and blue eyes,


leaves her lover as a Komitas

deciphering intricate Armenian neums,

with a wild surmise.


At once the ebony of his face

became moodless—bare

as the marked-off space

between the feathered areas of a cock;

then, his

spoon-shape straightened.

His glance

as sharp as a lance-

olate leaf, he said:

“It matters not a tinker’s dam

on the hither or thither side of the Acheron

how many rivers you cross

if you fail to cross the Rubicon!”



He was robbed and murdered in his flat,

and the only witness was a Hamletian rat.

But out of Black Bourgeoise came—

for John Laugart—

a bottle of Schiedam gin

and Charon’s grin

and infamy,

the Siamese twin

of fame.


Melvin Tolson, "Delta" from Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999)
Source: "Harlem Gallery" and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (University Press of Virginia, 1999)
More Poems by Melvin B. Tolson