Friday, December 16, 2011

Gathered Laughter

Something in the air on Thursday drew my mind suddenly to thoughts of Langston Hughes, one of those mysterious prompts that depend on no logic and connect with nothing at hand. Good timing, since calendar and schedule permitted a long lazy afternoon of thumbing through a collection of Langston Hughes poems and a book of short stories. One of the books on my wish list is the writer’s autobiography, The Big Sea which recounts the writer’s time in Paris where as a young man he worked as a cook and waiter in nightclubs and ‘knew the musicians and dancers, the drunks and dope fiends’ and the years in Harlem where he was a rising young poet at the center of the ‘Harlem Renaissance.’

Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, Langston Hughes spent a year at Columbia University before hopping a tramp steamer for West Africa and Europe. As a crew member on the ship, he traveled up and down the coast of West Africa for six months, and then settled in Paris for some time. Back in the US, and after earning a degree at Lincoln University, he moved to Harlem in New York City where he remained until his death in 1967.

The two poems below are from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, originally sent by Hughes to the Associated Negro Press in Chicago, which distributed them to African American newspapers throughout the country. Information about which newspaper the poems first appeared in is not available in the volume of collected poems. The first poem is dated July 1943, the second August 1943.

Many clocks in many towers
Have struck for me delightful hours.
Many cities, many towns
Have gathered laughter,
Scattered frowns.
Many clocks in many towers
Have laughed their hours.

Some day in some higher tower
A clock will strike its final hour.
When it tolls I shall go
Not wishing that the hour be slow.

I shall then remember still
How it struck one gay December
Near the Kremlin white with snow
And the midnight a warm ember
Of love’s glow.

I shall then still sweet recall
How one evening in Les Halles
We walked together arm in arm
Hearing Notre Dame’s grave charm.

Then I shall still realize
How, round the world, the bells are wise,
So when I hear that last bell toll,
Willingly, I’ll bare my soul.

For many clocks in many towers,
Have struck for me delightful hours,
So there shall be no need to fear
The final hour drawing near.

I forgot
to send a card to Jennie
But the truth about cousins is
There’s too many.

I also forgot
A card for Joe
But I believe I’ll let
The old rascal go.

I disremembered
My old friend Jack
But he’s been evil
Long as he’s been black.

I done bought
Four boxes now,
And I can’t afford
No more nohow.

Cards or no cards
Here’s HOWDY!

More poems by Langston Hughes are here and here.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America