Perri’s Black History Month Poetry Slam

Day 1 – February 1, 2015

 

It’s Black History Month, and, I thought it apropos to do a mini historical Poetry Slam!

Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of America’s greatest and most prolific poets. Born June 27, 1872 in Dayton, Ohio to parents who had been slaves, he died February 9, 1906 of tuberculosis in Dayton, Ohio. Yet during his brief 33 years of life, his literary creations include numerous articles and essays, four novels, four books of short stories, a play, the lyrics for In Dahomey (the 1st Broadway musical written and performed by African Americans and one of the most successful theatrical productions of its time), and a dozen books of treasured poetry.

 

IN THE MORNING

‘Lias! ‘Lias! Bless de Lawd!
Don’ you know de day’s erbroad?
Ef you don’ git up, you scamp,
Dey’ll be trouble in dis camp.
T’ink I gwine to let you sleep
W’ile I meks yo’ boa’d an’ keep?
Dat’s a putty howdy-­‐do -­‐-­‐
Don’ you hyeah me, ‘Lias – you?

Bet ef I come crost dis flo’
You won’ fin’ no time to sno’.
Daylight all a-­‐shinin’ in
Wile you sleep – w’y hit’s a sin!
Ain’t de can’le-­‐light enough
To bu’n out widout a snuff,
But you go de mo’nin’ thoo
Bu’nin’ up de daylight too?

‘Lias, don’t you hyeah me call?
No use tu’nin to’ds de wall;
I kin hyeah dat mattuss squeak;
Don’ you hyeah me w’en I speak?
Dis hyeah clock done struck off six –

Ca’line, bring me dem ah sticks!
Oh, you down, suh; huh, you down –
Look hyeah, don’ you daih to frown.

Ma’ch yo’se’f an’ wash yo’ face,
Don’ you splattah all de place;
I got somep’n else to do,
‘Sides jes’ cleanin’ aftah you.
Tek dat comb ah’ fix yo’ haid –
Looks jes’ lak a feddah baid.
Look hyeah, boy, I let you see
You sha’n’t roll yo’ eyes at me.

Come hyeah; bring me dat ah strap!
Boy, I’ll whup you ’twell you drap;
You done felt yo’se’f too strong,
An’ you sholy got me wrong.
Set down at dat table thaih;
Jes’ you whimpah ef you daih!
Evah mo’nin’ on dis place,
Seem lak I mus’ lose my grace.

Fol’ yo’ han’s an’ bow yo’ haid –
Wait ontwell de blessin’ ‘s said;
“Lawd, have mussy on ouah souls __”
(Don’ you daih to tech dem rools -­‐-­‐)
“Bless de food we gwine to eat –“
(You set still – I see yo’ feet;
You jes’ try dat trick agin!)
“Gin us peace an’ joy. Amen!”
             —Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar’s lively dialect poetry was heralded and celebrated in his lifetime. He toured abroad and kept the company of that days great luminaries like Booker T. Washington, Fredrick Douglass and James Weldon Johnson. When Malindy Sings was included in William McKinley’s 1901 presidential inauguration.

WHEN MALINDY SINGS

G’way an’ quit dat noise, Miss Lucy –
Put dat music book away;
What’s de use to keep on tryin’?
Ef you practice twell you’re gay,
You cain’t sta’t no notes a-­‐flyin’
Lak de ones dat rants and rings
F’om de kitchen to de big woods
When Malindy sings.

You ain’t got de nachel o’gans
Fu’ to make de soun’ come right,
You ain’t got de tu’ns an’ twistin’s
Fu’ to make it sweet an’ light.
Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy,
An’ I’m tellin’ you fu’ true,
When it comes to raal right singin’,
‘T ain’t no easy thing to do
—(excerptedPaul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar had childhood friends who, like himself, rose to lofty heights including Orville and Wilbur Wright, his high school pals and fabled brothers that launched man in flight. The Wright brothers printed The Tattler, Dayton’s first African American newspaper that Dunbar wrote and edited. The Wright brothers also suggested that he use United Brethren Publishing House, their family’s church press, to print Oak and Ivy, his first book of poetry, because they didn’t have the means to print and bind books.

There are countless geniuses amongst our friends and family whose talents never got the spotlight. One of them was my gifted father, George D. Gaffney. He wrote poetry and novels, painted watercolor portraits and murals, wrote and illustrated a cartoon series, and penned a weekly column for the USPS internal publication. My father’s poetry was often mistaken for Dunbar’s.

 

GOOD MORNING MR. MEAT MAN

Good mo’nin’ Mista Meat Man
Wha’s dis I hear you say,
You gots a slab of livvah
Fo’ to tempt me wit today?

Well, I don’ want no livvah
An I don’ want no lamb
Mah eyes is shut to po’k chops
An I ain’t a huntin’ ham
Scratch out my name fo’ chicken
An put sausage outta sight
An please inscribe mah order
Fo’ some colored folks delight
Mmmm, mmmm han’ dem to me!

Gimme some of dat -­‐-­‐
You know what April means,
I wants a slab of bacon
Fo’ mah dandelion greens!

Dis mo’nin’ when de dew drops
Was rasslin’ wit de sun,
I ketch my lips a smackin’
Lak dey wants to have some fun.

So Ah goes down by de mill creek
Whure de dandelions grow,
An der I ‘gin a pickin’
Row on row.

An when mah days is ovah
On dis ol’ mortal coil
Ah hopes dey lays me down
In dat pro-­‐vi-­‐den-­‐tial soil
Mmmm,mmmm han’ dem to me!
               —George D. Gaffney

Paul Laurence Dunbar was equally adept at composing poetry in standard English.

WE WEAR THE MASK

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, -­‐-­‐
This debt we pay with human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-­‐wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
              —Paul Laurence Dunbar

Here’s another. Who wrote The Parson’s Plight—Dunbar or Gaffney?

THE PARSON’S PLIGHT

I ain’t got no mind for fussin’
Or for gossipin’ an’ sech
But the plight of Parson Thomas
Put my ‘ligion on a crutch.

Course the Parson, he a good man
He didn’ mean no harm
He jes stayed around the chu’ch folks
Jes a li’l bit too long.

But let me git on wit my story
Ah’m gonna let the rumor roll,
But Ah does feel kinda sorry
For the Parson, poor ol’ soul.

It was long ‘bout near on midnight
An’ the air was filled wit sound
Of the banjos an’ the trumpets
Fum the cabaret uptown.

An’ the rumble of the trap drums
Put the rhythm in my step
So Ah goes up to the place
To renew mah ol’ pep.

But to the height of my disgus’ment
Was the Parson sittin’ there
Jes a grinnin’ at the entertainah
As she whirled right by his chair.

So Ah walks up to his table
An’ Ah says, “Ah do declare,
Of all us Christian peoples
I thought least to fine you heah!”

Well, he shore did look surprised
An’ wit a sigh in his dismay
He tried to patch the sitiation
In a decent sorta way.

“Ah’m heah on a mission, my son,
To gatha in these souls,
The stray sheep of de Massa’s flock,
That has wandered fum de fold.”

Now he mighta been correc’
In that statement he jes made
But his li’l expedition
Kinda put him in de shade.

Co’s you can’t judge a man
By the ‘spression on his face
But Ah thinks that fo’ a moment
He jes kinda los’ his grace.

This is my daddy’s! —George D. Gaffney… See what I mean!

Perri Gaffney,

February 2015

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