I've saved my favorite Robert Hayden poem for last.
This one is about Harriet Tubman, a woman who once said, "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." I love that quote. It really speaks to the inability of human beings to recognize their own shackles. To dream of something better.
Saint Marty believes in dreams.
by: Robert Hayden
Runs falls rises stumbles on from darkness into darkness
and the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror
and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing
and the night cold and the night long and the river
to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns beckoning beckoning
and blackness ahead and when shall I reach that somewhere
morning and keep on going and never turn back and keep on going
Many thousands rise and go
many thousands crossing over
O mythic North
O star-shaped yonder Bible city
Some go weeping and some rejoicing
some in coffins and some in carriages
some in silks and some in shackles
Rise and go or fare you well
No more auction block for me
no more driver’s lash for me
If you see my Pompey, 30 yrs of age,
new breeches, plain stockings, negro shoes;
if you see my Anna, likely young mulatto
branded E on the right cheek, R on the left,
catch them if you can and notify subscriber.
Catch them if you can, but it won’t be easy.
They’ll dart underground when you try to catch them,
plunge into quicksand, whirlpools, mazes,
turn into scorpions when you try to catch them.
And before I’ll be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
North star and bonanza gold
I’m bound for the freedom, freedom-bound
and oh Susyanna don’t you cry for me
Rises from their anguish and their power,
woman of earth, whipscarred,
a summoning, a shining
Mean to be free
And this was the way of it, brethren brethren,
way we journeyed from Can’t to Can.
Moon so bright and no place to hide,
the cry up and the patterollers riding,
hound dogs belling in bladed air.
And fear starts a-murbling, Never make it,
we’ll never make it. Hush that now,
and she’s turned upon us, levelled pistol
glinting in the moonlight:
Dead folks can’t jaybird-talk, she says;
you keep on going now or die, she says.
Wanted Harriet Tubman alias The General
alias Moses Stealer of Slaves
In league with Garrison Alcott Emerson
Garrett Douglas Thoreau John Brown
Armed and known to be Dangerous
Wanted Reward Dead or Alive
Tell me, Ezekiel, oh tell me do you see
mailed Jehovah coming to deliver me?
Hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,
five times calling to the hants in the air.
Shadow of a face in the scary leaves,
shadow of a voice in the talking leaves:
Come ride-a my train
Oh that train, ghost-story train
through swamp and savanna movering movering,
over trestles of dew, through caves of the wish,
Midnight Special on a sabre track movering movering,
first stop Mercy and the last Hallelujah.
Come ride-a my train