A Street in Bronzeville: A Library of America eBook Classic

A Street in Bronzeville: A Library of America eBook Classic

by Gwendolyn Brooks

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Gwendolyn Brooks was one of the most accomplished and acclaimed poets of the last century, the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize and the first black woman to serve as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the forerunner of the U.S. Poet Laureate. Here, in an exclusive Library of America E-Book Classic edition, is her groundbreaking first book of poems, a searing portrait of Chicago’s South Side. “I wrote about what I saw and heard in the street,” she later said. “There was my material.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781598533811
Publisher: Library of America
Publication date: 10/07/2014
Series: Library of America Series
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 60
Sales rank: 294,485
File size: 150 KB

About the Author

Gwendolyn Brooks was one of the most accomplished and acclaimed poets of the last century, the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize and the first black woman to serve as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the forerunner of the U.S. Poet Laureate.

Read an Excerpt

A Street in Bronzeville

By Gwendolyn Brooks

The Library Of America

Copyright © 2014 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59853-381-1


    the old-marrieds

    But in the crowding darkness not a word did they say.
    Though the pretty-coated birds had piped so lightly all the day.
    And he had seen the lovers in the little side-streets.
    And she had heard the morning stories clogged with sweets.
    It was quite a time for loving. It was midnight. It was May.
    But in the crowding darkness not a word did they say.

    kitchenette building

    We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
    Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
    Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."

    But could a dream send up through onion fumes
    Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
    And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
    Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

    Even if we were willing to let it in,
    Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
    Anticipate a message, let it begin?

    We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
    Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
    We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

    the mother

    Abortions will not let you forget.
    You remember the children you got that you did not get,
    The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
    The singers and workers that never handled the air.
    You will never neglect or beat
    Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
    You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
    Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
    You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
    Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

    I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
    I have contracted. I have eased
    My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
    I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
    Your luck
    And your lives from your unfinished reach,
    If I stole your births and your names,
    Your straight baby tears and your games,
    Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
    If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
    Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
    Though why should I whine,
    Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
    Since anyhow you are dead.
    Or rather, or instead,
    You were never made.
    But that too, I am afraid,
    Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
    You were born, you had body, you died.
    It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
    Believe me, I loved you all.
    Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you

    southeast corner

    The School of Beauty's a tavern now.
    The Madam is underground.
    Out at Lincoln, among the graves
    Her own is early found.
    Where the thickest, tallest monument
    Cuts grandly into the air
    The Madam lies, contentedly.
    Her fortune, too, lies there,
    Converted into cool hard steel
    And bright red velvet lining;
    While over her tan impassivity
    Shot silk is shining.

    when Mrs. Martin's Booker T.

    When Mrs. Martin's Booker T.
    Ruined Rosa Brown
    Mrs. Martin moved away
    To the low west side of town.
    "Don't care if I never see that boy
    Again to the end of my days.
    He wrung my heart like a chicken neck.
    And he made me a disgrace.
    Don't come to tell me he's dyin'.
    Don't come to tell me he's dead.
    But tell me if'n he take that gal
    And get her decent wed."

    the soft man

    Disgusting, isn't it, dealing out the damns
    To every comer? Hits the heart like pain.
    And calling women (Marys) chicks and broads,
    Men hep, and cats, or corny to the jive.
    Being seen Everywhere (keeping Alive),
    Rhumboogie (and the joint is jumpin', Joe),
    Brass Rail, Keyhole, De Lisa, Cabin Inn.
    And all the other garbage cans.

    But grin.
    Because there is a clean unanxious place
    To which you creep on Sundays. And you cool
    In lovely sadness.

    No one giggles where
    You bathe your sweet vulgarity in prayer.

    the funeral

    To whatever you incline, your final choice here must be handling
    Occasional sweet clichés with a dishonesty of deft tact.
    For these people are stricken, they want none of your long-range messages,
    Only the sweet clichés, to pamper them, modify fright.
    Many friends have sent flowers, clubs have been kind with sprays,
    Wreaths. The flowers provide a kind of heat. Sick
    Thick odor-loveliness winds nicely about the shape of mourning,
    A dainty horror. People think of flowers upon rot—
    And for moments together the corpse is no colder than they.
    They glance at each other, want love from each other:
    Or they do not glance but out of tight eyes vaguely pray.

    Preacher and tradition of piety and propriety rise. The people wait
    For the dear blindfold: "Heaven is Good denied.
    Rich are the men who have died."

    hunchback girl: she thinks of heaven

    My father, it is surely a blue place
    And straight. Right. Regular. Where I shall find
    No need for scholarly nonchalance or looks
    A little to the left or guards upon the
    Heart to halt love that runs without crookedness
    Along its crooked corridors. My Father,
    It is a planned place surely. Out of coils,
    Unscrewed, released, no more to be marvelous,
    I shall walk straightly through most proper halls
    Proper myself, princess of properness.

    a song in the front yard

    I've stayed in the front yard all my life.
    I want a peek at the back
    Where it's rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
    A girl gets sick of a rose.

    I want to go in the back yard now
    And maybe down the alley,
    To where the charity children play.
    I want a good time today.

    They do some wonderful things.
    They have some wonderful fun.
    My mother sneers, but I say it's fine
    How they don't have to go in at quarter to nine.
    My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
    Will grow up to be a bad woman.
    That George'll be taken to Jail soon or late
    (On account of last winter he sold our back gate.)

    But I say it's fine. Honest, I do.
    And I'd like to be a bad woman, too,
    And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
    And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

    patent leather

    That cool chick down on Calumet
    Has got herself a brand new cat,
    With pretty patent-leather hair.
    And he is man enough for her.

    Us other guys don't think he's such
    A much.
    His voice is shrill.
    His muscle is pitiful.
    That cool chick down on Calumet,
    Though, says he's really "it."
    And strokes the patent-leather hair
    That makes him man enough for her.

    he ballad of chocolate Mabbie

    It was Mabbie without the grammar school gates.
    And Mabbie was all of seven.
    And Mabbie was cut from a chocolate bar.
    And Mabbie thought life was heaven.

    The grammar school gates were the pearly gates,
    For Willie Boone went to school.
    When she sat by him in history class
    Was only her eyes were cool.

    It was Mabbie without the grammar school gates
    Waiting for Willie Boone.
    Half hour after the closing bell!
    He would surely be coming soon.

    Oh, warm is the waiting for joys, my dears!
    And it cannot be too long.
    Oh, pity the little poor chocolate lips
    That carry the bubble of song!

    Out came the saucily bold Willie Boone.
    It was woe for our Mabbie now.
    He wore like a jewel a lemon-hued lynx
    With sand-waves loving her brow.

    It was Mabbie alone by the grammar school gates.
    Yet chocolate companions had she:
    Mabbie on Mabbie with hush in the heart.
    Mabbie on Mabbie to be.

    the preacher: ruminates behind the sermon

    I think it must be lonely to be God.
    Nobody loves a master. No. Despite
    The bright hosannas, bright dear-Lords, and bright
    Determined reverence of Sunday eyes.

    Picture Jehovah striding through the hall
    Of His importance, creatures running out
    From servant-corners to acclaim, to shout
    Appreciation of His merit's glare.

    But who walks with Him?—dares to take His arm,
    To slap Him on the shoulder, tweak His ear,
    Buy Him a Coca-Cola or a beer,
    Pooh-pooh His politics, call Him a fool?

    Perhaps—who knows?—He tires of looking down.
    Those eyes are never lifted. Never straight.
    Perhaps sometimes He tires of being great
    In solitude. Without a hand to hold.

    Sadie and Maud

    Maud went to college.
    Sadie stayed at home.
    Sadie scraped life
    With a fine-tooth comb.

    She didn't leave a tangle in.
    Her comb found every strand.
    Sadie was one of the livingest chits
    In all the land.

    Sadie bore two babies
    Under her maiden name.
    Maud and Ma and Papa
    Nearly died of shame.
    Every one but Sadie
    Nearly died of shame.

    When Sadie said her last so-long
    Her girls struck out from home.
    (Sadie had left as heritage
    Her fine-tooth comb.)

    Maud, who went to college,
    Is a thin brown mouse.
    She is living all alone
    In this old house.

    the independent man

    Now who could take you off to tiny life
    In one room or in two rooms or in three
    And cork you smartly, like the flask of wine
    You are? Not any woman. Not a wife.
    You'd let her twirl you, give her a good glee
    Showing your leaping ruby to a friend.
    Though twirling would be meek. Since not a cork
    Could you allow, for being made so free.

    A woman would be wise to think it well
    If once a week you only rang the bell.

    obituary for a living lady

    My friend was decently wild
    As a child.
    And as a young girl
    She was interested in a brooch and pink powder and a curl.
    As a young woman though
    She fell in love with a man who didn't know
    That even if she wouldn't let him touch her breasts she was still worth his hours,
    Stopped calling Sundays with flowers.
    Sunday after Sunday she put on her clean, gay (though white) dress,
    Worried the windows. There was so much silence she finally decided that the next time
    she would say "yes."
    But the man had found by then a woman who dressed in red.
    My friend spent a hundred weeks or so wishing she were dead.
    But crying for yourself, when you give it all of your time, gets tedious after a while.
    Therefore she terminated her mourning, made for her mouth a sad sweet smile
    And discovered the country of God. Now she will not dance
    And she thinks not the thinnest thought of any type of romance
    And I can't get her to take a touch of the best cream cologne.
    However even without lipstick she is lovely and it is no wonder that the preacher (at
    present) is almost a synonym for her telephone
    And watches the neutral kind bland eyes that moisten the first pew center on Sunday—I
    beg your pardon—Sabbath nights
    And wonders as his stomach breaks up into fire and lights
    How long it will be
    Before he can, with reasonably slight risk of rebuke, put his hand on her knee.

    when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story

    ———And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and Saturday,
    And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday—
    When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
    Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
    Looking off down the long street
    To nowhere,
    Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
    And nothing-I-have-to-do and I'm-happy-why?
    And if-Monday-never-had-to-come—
    When you have forgotten that, I say,
    And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
    And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
    And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
    That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest
    To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
    Or chicken and rice
    And salad and rye bread and tea
    And chocolate chip cookies—
    I say, when you have forgotten that,
    When you have forgotten my little presentiment
    That the war would be over before they got to you;
    And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
    And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
    Bright bedclothes,
    Then gently folded into each other—
    When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
    Then you may tell,
    Then I may believe
    You have forgotten me well.

    the murder

    This is where poor Percy died,
    Short of the age of one.
    His brother Brucie, with a grin,
    Burned him up for fun.

    No doubt, poor Percy watched the fire
    Chew on his baby dress
    With sweet delight, enjoying too
    His brother's happiness.

    No doubt, poor Percy looked around
    And wondered at the heat,
    Was worried, wanted Mother,
    Who gossiped down the street.

    No doubt, poor shrieking Percy died
    Loving Brucie still,
    Who could, with clean and open eye,
    Thoughtfully kill.

    Brucie has no playmates now.
    His mother mourns his lack.
    Brucie keeps on asking, "When
    Is Percy comin' back?"

    of De Witt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery

    He was born in Alabama.
    He was bred in Illinois.
    He was nothing but a
    Plain black boy.

    Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot.
    Nothing but a plain black boy.

    Drive him past the Pool Hall.
    Drive him past the Show.
    Blind within his casket,
    But maybe he will know.

    Down through Forty-seventh Street:
    Underneath the L,
    And—Northwest Corner, Prairie,
    That he loved so well.

    Don't forget the Dance Halls—
    Warwick and Savoy,
    Where he picked his women, where
    He drank his liquid joy.

    Born in Alabama.
    Bred in Illinois.
    He was nothing but a
    Plain black boy.

    Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot.
    Nothing but a plain black boy.

    Matthew Cole

    Here are the facts.
    He's sixty-six.
    He rooms in a stove-heated flat
    Over on Lafayette.
    He has roomed there ten years long.
    He never will be done
    With dust and his ceiling that
    Is everlasting sad,
    And the gloomy housekeeper
    Who forgets to build the fire,
    And the red fat roaches that stroll
    Unafraid up his wall,
    And the whiteless grin of the housekeeper
    On Saturday night when he pays his four
    Dollars, the ceaseless Sunday row
    Of her big cheap radio....

    She'll tell you he is the pleasantest man—
    Always a smile, a smile.... But in
    The door-locked dirtiness of his room
    He never smiles. Except when come,
    Say, thoughts of a little boy licorice-full
    Without a nickel for Sunday School.
    Or thoughts of a little boy playing ball
    And swearing at sound of his mother's call.
    Once, I think, he laughed aloud,
    At thought of a wonderful joke he'd played
    On the whole crowd, the old crowd....


Excerpted from A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks. Copyright © 2014 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The Library Of America.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


the old-marrieds,
kitchenette building,
the mother,
southeast corner,
when Mrs. Martin's Booker T.,
the soft man,
the funeral,
hunchback girl: she thinks of heaven,
a song in the front yard,
patent leather,
the ballad of chocolate Mabbie,
the preacher: ruminates behind the sermon,
Sadie and Maud,
the independent man,
obituary for a living lady,
when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story,
the murder,
of De Witt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery,
Matthew Cole,
the vacant lot,
the end of the day,
the date,
at the hairdresser's,
when I die,
the battle,
gay chaps at the bar,
"still do I keep my look, my identity ...",
my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell,
piano after war,
the white troops had their orders but the Negroes looked like men,
firstly inclined to take what it is told,
"God works in a mysterious way",
love note I: surely,
love note II: flags,
the progress,

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