Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Melvin B. Tolson (1900-1966)

I have to write a bite of commentary on this one because I love this poem! I also didn't realize until yesterday that the author is the same guy who is the teacher in the movie The Great Debaters! One of the best things about this poem are how well it captures the attitude of the "Bad Negro" which is the predecessor to Shaft's "Bad Mutha SHUT YOU MOUF!". 
Oh I'll just let you read it!

The Birth of John Henry
The night John Henry is born an ax
of lightening splits the sky,
and a hammer of thunder pounds the earth,
and the eagles and panthers cry!

John Henry-He says to his Ma and Pa:
"Get a gallon of barleycorn.
I want to start right, like a he-man child,
the night that I am born!"

Says: "I want some ham hocks, ribs, and jowls,
a pot of cabbage and greens;
some hoecakes, jam and buttermilk,
a platter of pork and beans!"

John Henry's Ma-she wrings her hands,
and his Pa-he scratches his head.
John Henry-he curses in giraffe-tall words,
flops over, and kicks down the bed.

He's burning mad, like a bear on fire-
so he tears to the riverside.
As he stoops to drink, Old Man River gets scared
and runs upstream to hide!

Some say he was born in Georgia-Oh Lord!
Some say in Alabam.
But it's writ on the rock at the Big Bend Tunnel:
"Lousyana was my home. So scram!"

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