Langston Blue

by Jericho Brown


“O Blood of the River of songs,
O songs of the River of Blood,”
______Let me lie down. Let my words

Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating their invocations pure
______And perfect as the moans that

Mount in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out
______Of heaven. Blues for the angels

Who miss them still. Blues for
My people and whatever water
______They know. O weary drinkers

Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
______So close? Why sing of rivers

With a daddy of my own to miss?
I remember him and taste a stain
______Red as blood coursing the body

Of a man chased by a mob. I write
That running, his sweat: here,
______He climbs a poplar for the sky,

But it is only sky. The river?
Follow me. You’ll see. We tried
______To fly and learned we couldn’t

Swim. Dear singing river full of
My blood, are we as loud under-
______Water? Is it blood that binds

Brothers? Or is it the Mississippi
Running through the fattest vein
______Of America? When I say home,

I mean I wanted to write some
Lines. I wanted to hear the blues,
______But here I am swimming in the river

Again. What runs through the fat
Veins of a drowned body? What
______America can a body call home?

When I say Congo, I mean blood.
When I say Nile, I mean blood.
______When I say Euphrates, I mean,

If only you knew how much blood
We have in common. So much,
______In Louisiana, they call a man like me

Red. And red was too dark
For my daddy. And my daddy was
______Too dark for America. He ran

Like a man from my mother
And me. And my mother’s sobs
______Are the songs of Bessie Smith

Who wears more feathers than
Death. O the death my people refuse
______To die. When I was 18, I wrote down

The river though I couldn’t win
A race, climbed a tree that winter, then
______Fell, flat on my wet, red face. Line

After line, I read all the time,
But “there was nothing
______I could do about Race.”


“Langston Blue” originally appeared in New Madrid

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