Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September 26: James Weldon Johnson, "A Poet to His Baby Son," Son's 10th Birthday

A Poet to His Baby Son

by:  James Weldon Johnson

Tiny bit of humanity,
Blessed with your mother’s face,   
And cursed with your father’s mind.

I say cursed with your father’s mind,
Because you can lie so long and so quietly on your back,   
Playing with the dimpled big toe of your left foot,   
And looking away,
Through the ceiling of the room, and beyond.
Can it be that already you are thinking of being a poet?

Why don’t you kick and howl,   
And make the neighbors talk about   
“That damned baby next door,”   
And make up your mind forthwith   
To grow up and be a banker
Or a politician or some other sort of go-getter   
Or—?—whatever you decide upon,   
Rid yourself of these incipient thoughts   
About being a poet.

For poets no longer are makers of songs,   
Chanters of the gold and purple harvest,   
Sayers of the glories of earth and sky,   
Of the sweet pain of love
And the keen joy of living;
No longer dreamers of the essential dreams,   
And interpreters of the eternal truth,   
Through the eternal beauty.
Poets these days are unfortunate fellows.   
Baffled in trying to say old things in a new way   
Or new things in an old language,   
They talk abracadabra
In an unknown tongue,
Each one fashioning for himself
A wordy world of shadow problems,
And as a self-imagined Atlas,
Struggling under it with puny legs and arms,   
Groaning out incoherent complaints at his load.

My son, this is no time nor place for a poet;   
Grow up and join the big, busy crowd   
That scrambles for what it thinks it wants   
Out of this old world which is—as it is—
And, probably, always will be.

Take the advice of a father who knows:   
You cannot begin too young   
Not to be a poet.


My son turned ten years old today.

So, in celebration of his decade of life, I present you a list of things I love about my son:

  • His unpredictability:  I never know what is going to come out of his mouth--a joke about sharks, a Roger Miller song, or "go to hell."
  • His kindness:  At Christmas time one year, his class had a Secret Santa gift exchange.  My son insisted on buying three extra presents, so that "nobody got left out."
  • His laugh:  When I'm in the darkest of moods, the foulest of tempers, his laugh can move mountains inside me.
  • His curiosity:  He once hopped in a car with me to see a snapping turtle slowly ambling across the street, making sure it safely made the woods on the other side.
  • His energy:  The poor child has inherited my ADD.  He moves from television to computer to scooter back to television.  Sometimes in the space of five minutes.
  • His spirituality:  I watch him pray.  He doesn't do the "kid thing"--bowing his head until the adults stop talking.  He is having some deep conversation with the Big Guy upstairs.
  • His love:  He hurts easily.  Forgives easily.  Hugs me every night.  Isn't ashamed to give me kisses in public.
  • His acceptance:  He doesn't see people in terms of skin color or gender or sexual orientation.  He sees people as playmates.
  • His feelings about Donald Trump:  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  He's not a big fan of "President Dump."
  • His Bigfoot love:  He has almost as many Bigfoot tee shirts as I do.
  • His patience:  He still loves me, despite all the times I've fucked up as a father.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the gift of his son.

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