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Gwendolyn Brooks: America in the Wintertime

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in this moment of orangutans, wolves, and scavengers,
of high heat redesigning the north & south poles
and the wanderings of new tribes in limousines,
with the confirmations of liars, thieves, and get-over artists,
in the wilderness of pennsylvania avenue,
standing rock, misspelled executive orders
on yellow paper with crooked signatures.

where are the kind language makers among us?

at a time of extreme climate damage,
deciphering fake news, alternative truths, and me-ism
you saw the twenty-first century and left us
not on your own accord or permission.
you have fought and fought most of the twentieth century
creating an army of poets who learned
and loved language and stories
of complicated rivers, seas, and oceans.

where is the kind green nourishment of kale and wheatgrass?

you thought, wrote, and lived poetry,
knew that terror is also language based
on denial, first-ism, and rich cowards.
you were honey and yes to us,
never ran from Black as in bones, Africa,
blood and questioning yesterdays and tomorrows.
we never saw you dance but you had rhythm,
you were a warrior before the war,
creating earth language, uncommon signs and melodies,
and did not sing the songs of career slaves.

keenly aware of tubman, douglass, wells-barnett, du bois,
and the oversized consciousness and commitment of never-quit people
religiously taking note of the bloodlust enemies of kindness
we hear your last words:
     america
     if you see me as your enemy
     you have no
     friends.

Source: Poetry (June 2017)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Poetry magazine

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Gwendolyn Brooks: America in the Wintertime

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  • Born Donald Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas, the poet adopted the Swahili name Haki R. Madhubuti after traveling to Africa in 1974. As he shared in a 2006 interview, he sensed that “a new African name would help me in arriving at a final definition of self.” Haki means “justice” and Madhubuti means “precise, accurate, and dependable.”

    Madhubuti received an MFA from the University of Iowa and served in the army from 1960 to 1963. A member of the Black Arts Movement, Madhubuti has published more than 20 books of poetry, nonfiction, and critical essays, and his work has been widely anthologized. Influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks, Madhubuti writes experimental, free-verse, politically charged poetry with a staccato rhythm. Over the span of his career, his poetry has shifted its focus from the personal to the political. Early work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE),...

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