About the Poet
Brian Gilmore is a poet, writer, and columnist with the Progressive Media Project. He is the author of two collections of poetry, "elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlem," and "Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: Poem for Duke Ellington."
His poems and writings are widely published and have appeared in the Progressive, The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, The Sugar House Review, and Jubilat.
Currently, he teaches law at the MIchigan State University College of Law. He divides his time between Michigan and his beloved birthplace, Washington D.C.
Spring 2013 Poems »
raisin in the sun
i wasn’t born in america.
i was born in hawaii.
i am not really black.
i didn’t grow up around
black people. i can’t make
sweet potato pie. i can’t fry chicken.
i can play basketball but i don’t have
a crossover. i never read JET or EBONY
growing up. i never saw “Soul Train”
or “Sanford and Son” either.
“Good Times” is a disco song by Chic
but i never knew who Chic was either.
rumor is i dropped acid. listened to the Eagles
mostly, “Hotel California,” and Kiss,
painted my face white with stars.
i rode a skateboard. i read stephen king,
not james baldwin or richard
wright. martha’s vineyard; is that
george washington’s old lady? the
underground railroad was really
underground. dred scott’s
a rasta, right?
shut the hell up.
my father left me.
went back home like he
was marcus garvey or
dubois or carl hansberry
going to mexico. he was
from chicago. he believed
in it. didn’t want to eat his pulled
pork on the south side only.
they hit his daughter
with a brick, broke his heart.
now we got to hear about it
a few hundred times a year.
i wasn’t born in america but i
live there now. people there hate
me because i am black. because i
don’t have a crossover and can’t
fry chicken. but mostly because
i never come out anymore. i stay
home, read essays by james
baldwin, fiction by richard
wright. watch ‘raisin in the sun’
until my hair turns black.
||(for aquila sr. & hazel)
the son ponders his departure in the middle of
night. his parents asleep in their creeky
baltimore rowhouse heated by
stoves. there is nothing here for him
in this city anymore. that is why he has
come; he wanted to be sure.
his father, an insurance man, sells
no more policies; his mother has long
since immersed herself in mail order
vitamins, scripture, lukewarm glasses of
tap water boiled pure.
the son’s older brothers
have not returned from the wars;
his sisters are busy trying to marry.
the son’s life is cold concrete
dead of winter;
his father built something in this dog
of a city. colored man keeping the
lights on door to door the old
way. ten children into the
world: no prisoners, no
prostitutes, hot meals, warm beds,
his boys wearing war medals and
making ends meet far
the son has a bus ticket to the capitol of the
world just down the highway; he don’t know
how to tell his father that there is nothing
here anymore but crabmeat and football.
he has never liked crabcakes
and he can read about johnny unitas
and the colts in the newspaper.
pops, he says to his father one evening:
today i saw an old woman fall down
on the street today carrying her groceries.
i helped her up but she just kept falling
the father does not hear the son.
makes no difference anyhow.
this is baltimore, 1951, a city
organized by railroad tracks,
the south side, numbers racket.
in the morning the son rides that
bus to the city down the road, buys
the washington star when he arrives,
walks to his sister’s home
from the bus station and briefly wonders
when the colts will play the
one day he will again visit home.
his mother will be ready with ice cold water
boiled pure on the stove; his father will talk
insurance but will still never again sell
||(for paul laurence dunbar)
jan brewer governor shaking her finger at
us. asking for birth certificate, three o’clock
roadblock. barber shop joke
street corner chatter
time passing, sense making
of friends in the joint, save us programs,
TIME magazine photo of running back
accused of murder.
and i am just back from louisiana picking up
a truck my father in law left for us. got pulled over
twice by the police in michigan for a broken
headlight. papa was too sick to replace
the light. i am telling the police
that this is papa’s truck and he gave this truck
to us on his death bed. cancer got him
on the ropes like foreman on ali and he can’t
rope-a-dope. i am cool with the first cop; he sends me
on my way, gives me advice about car
10 minutes later, pulled over again.
well dressed member of the same police crew
and i am thinking don’t y’all talk, don’t y’all
have them things i once got for christmas
where i could talk to one of my friends in the
alley and i was out front in the street.
he is a black cop and he wants to see my papers
and wants to know if I got guns, drugs, or
other weapons in the car, and wants
to know who is the young girl in the front seat even though
it is my 13 year old daughter who i just picked up from
russian ballerina practice.
richard pryor taught me well. perhaps i should have
stepped out the car and started singing loud and true
like bert williams. or ben vereen 1981, cork face, ronald
reagan grinning, grinch who stole christmas, 1912,
stars aligned again, titanic must be sinking.
my 13 year read a poem in class this year. i told her i read
that same poem in class when i was in third grade, mrs.
lewis, jesse lasalle elementary.
this is why she wanted
to read it.
“we wear the mask” paul
laurence dunbar. we all
know this one.
shake your finger. sport that old pair
of shoes. try to squeeze into
that tight dress with ruffles
out of place.neither will get you very far these days.
it is easy to see even with broken headlights.
little black girls are learning to dance like
baryshnikov. the rest of us are slowly
washing the cork off our faces.
Brian Gilmore ~