RIOT


A Poem in Three Parts

              A riot is the language of the unheard. 
              —Martin Luther King, Jr.


John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe, 
all whitebluerose below his golden hair, 
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool, 
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff; 
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The 
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost 
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray 
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s, 
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri. 

Because the “Negroes” were coming down the street. 

Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty 
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka) 
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks. 
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud. 
And not detainable. And not discreet. 

Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot 
itched instantly beneath the nourished white 
that told his story of glory to the World. 
“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he
whispered to any handy angel in the sky. 

But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove 
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath 
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili, 
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old 
averted doubt jerked forward decently, 
cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man, 
and the desperate die expensively today.” 

John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire 
and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord! 
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”






THE THIRD SERMON ON THE WARPLAND

               Phoenix 
                “In Egyptian mythology, a bird 
                which lived for five hundred 
                years and then consumed itself 
                in fire, rising renewed from the ashes.” 
                —webster


The earth is a beautiful place. 
Watermirrors and things to be reflected. 
Goldenrod across the little lagoon. 

The Black Philosopher says 
“Our chains are in the keep of the Keeper 
in a labeled cabinet 
on the second shelf by the cookies, 
sonatas, the arabesques. . . . 
There’s a rattle, sometimes. 
You do not hear it who mind only 
cookies and crunch them. 
You do not hear the remarkable music—‘A 
Death Song For You Before You Die.’ 
If you could hear it 
you would make music too. 
The blackblues.” 




   West Madison Street. 
In “Jessie’s Kitchen” 
nobody’s eating Jessie’s Perfect Food. 
Crazy flowers 
cry up across the sky, spreading 
and hissing This is 
it. 




The young men run. 

They will not steal Bing Crosby but will steal 
Melvin Van Peebles who made Lillie 
a thing of Zampoughi a thing of red wiggles and trebles 
(and I know there are twenty wire stalks sticking out of her 
      head 
as her underfed haunches jerk jazz.) 




A clean riot is not one in which little rioters 
long-stomped, long-straddled, BEANLESS 
but knowing no Why 
go steal in hell 
a radio, sit to hear James Brown 
and Mingus, Young-Holt, Coleman, John on V.O.N. 
and sun themselves in Sin. 

However, what 
is going on 
is going on. 




Fire. 
That is their way of lighting candles in the darkness. 
A White Philosopher said 
‘It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.’ 
                     These candles curse— 
inverting the deeps of the darkness. 

GUARD HERE, GUNS LOADED. 

The young men run. 
The children in ritual chatter 
scatter upon 
their Own and old geography. 

The Law comes sirening across the town. 




A woman is dead. 
Motherwoman. 
She lies among the boxes 
(that held the haughty hats, the Polish sausages) 
in newish, thorough, firm virginity 
as rich as fudge is if you’ve had five pieces. 
Not again shall she 
partake of steak 
on Christmas mornings, nor of nighttime 
chicken and wine at Val Gray Ward’s 
nor say 
of Mr. Beetley, Exit Jones, Junk Smith 
nor neat New-baby Williams (man-to-many) 
“He treat me right.” 

That was a gut gal. 

“We’ll do an us!” yells Yancey, a twittering twelve. 
“Instead of your deathintheafternoon, 
kill ’em, bull! 
kill ’em, bull!” 

The Black Philosopher blares 
“I tell you, exhaustive black integrity 
would assure a blackless Amrica. . . .” 




Nine die, Sun-Times will tell 
and will tell too 
in small black-bordered oblongs “Rumor? check it 
at 744-4111.” 




A Poem to Peanut. 
“Coooooool!” purrs Peanut. Peanut is 
Richard—a Ranger and a gentleman. 
A Signature. A Herald. And a Span. 
This Peanut will not let his men explode. 
And Rico will not. 
Neither will Sengali. 
Nor Bop nor Jeff, Geronimo nor Lover. 
These merely peer and purr, 
and pass the Passion over. 
The Disciples stir 
and thousandfold confer 
with ranging Rangermen; 
mutual in their “Yeah!— 
this AIN’T all upinheah!” 




“But WHY do These People offend themselves?” say they 
who say also “It’s time. 
It’s time to help 
These People.” 




Lies are told and legends made. 
Phoenix rises unafraid. 

The Black Philosopher will remember: 
“There they came to life and exulted, 
the hurt mute. 
Then is was over. 

The dust, as they say, settled.”





AN ASPECT OF LOVE, ALIVE IN THE ICE AND FIRE

                                                                              LaBohem Brown


In a package of minutes there is this We.
How beautiful.
Merry foreigners in our morning,
we laugh, we touch each other, 
are responsible props and posts.

A physical light is in the room.

Because the world is at the window
we cannot wonder very long.

You rise. Although
genial, you are in yourself again.
I observe
your direct and respectable stride.
You are direct and self-accepting as a lion
in Afrikan velvet. You are level, lean,
remote.


There is a moment in Camaraderie
when interruption is not to be understood.
I cannot bear an interruption.
This is the shining joy;
the time of not-to-end.

On the street we smile.
We go
in different directions
down the imperturbable street.



Gwendolyn Brooks, "Riot (three parts)" from Blacks. Copyright © 1994 by Gwendolyn Brooks.  Reprinted by permission of Estate of Gwendolyn Brooks.
Source: Blacks (Third World Press)
More Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks