#Poetry Friday–James Baldwin


James Baldwin, 1969, Hyde Park, London, from Wikimedia Commons.

Happy Poetry Friday!

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

Quote by James Baldwin

I’ve been reading James Baldwin and my post comes from my thoughts circling around our current politics and his writing…
by James Baldwin
I always wonder
what they think the niggers are doing
while they, the pink and alabaster pragmatists,
are containing
and defining and re-defining and re-aligning
nobly restraining themselves, meanwhile,
from blowing up that earth
which they have already
blasphemed into dung:
the gentle, wide-eyed, cheerful
ladies, and their men,
nostalgic for the noble cause of Vietnam,
nostalgic for noble causes,
aching, nobly, to wade through the blood of savages—
Uncas shall never leave the reservation,
except to purchase whisky at the State Liquor Store.
The Panama Canal shall remain forever locked:
there is a way around every treaty.
We will turn the tides of the restless
the sun will rise, and set
on our hotel balconies as we see fit.
The natives will have nothing to complain about,
indeed, they will begin to be grateful,
will be better off than ever before.
They will learn to defer gratification
and save up for things, like we do.
Oh, yes. They will.
We have only to make an offer
they cannot refuse.
This flag has been planted on the moon:
it will be interesting to see
what steps the moon will take to be revenged
for this quite breathtaking presumption.
This people
masturbate in winding sheets.
They have hacked their children to pieces.
They have never honoured a single treaty
made with anyone, anywhere.
The walls of their cities
are as foul as their children.
No wonder their children come at them with knives.
Mad Charlie man’s son was one of their children,
had got his shit together
by the time he left kindergarten,
and, as for Patty, heiress of all the ages,
she had the greatest vacation
of any heiress, anywhere:
Golly-gee, whillikens, Mom, real guns!
and they come with a real big, black funky stud, too: 
oh, Ma! he’s making eyes at me!
Oh, noble Duke Wayne,
be careful in them happy hunting grounds.
They say the only good Indian
is a dead Indian,
by what I say is,
you can’t be too careful, you hear?
Oh, towering Ronnie Reagan,
wise and resigned lover of redwoods,
deeply beloved, winning man-child of the yearning Republic
from diaper to football field to Warner Brothers sound-stages,
be thou our grinning, gently phallic, Big Boy of all the ages!
Salt peanuts, salt peanuts,
for dear hearts and gentle people,
and cheerful, shining, simple Uncle Sam!
Nigger, read this and run!
Now, if you can’t read,
run anyhow!
From Manifest Destiny
(Cortez, and all his men
silent upon a peak in Darien)
to A Decent Interval,
and the chopper rises above Saigon,
abandoning the noble cause
and the people we have made ignoble
and whom we leave there, now, to die,
one moves, With All Deliberate Speed,
to the South China Sea, and beyond,
where millions of new niggers
await glad tidings!
No, said the Great Man’s Lady,
I’m against abortion,
I always feel that’s killing somebody.
Well, what about capital punishment?
I think the death penalty helps.
That’s right.
Up to our ass in niggers
on Death Row.
Oh, Susanna,
don’t you cry for me!


Read the rest of the poem here.

Here’s an article, James Baldwin, poet? But of course, by David L. Ulin that talks about Baldwin’s poetry book, Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, that STAGGERLEE WONDERS is included in.


My poem reflects on Baldwin’s poem and events happening today.


Peel back your layers
What lies beneath your skin…

I spent early morning absorbing
James Baldwin’s poem,
Staggerlee Wonders,
written almost forty years ago…
Earth has opened again
as Baldwin predicted,
Change will come
as Baldwin predicted…
Time bickers with History
and in his poem,
History takes the upper hand
It was History–
Her, who emerged on stage “virginal”
Hard to believe–
Now our Earth–one earth
Has opened again
with its
Past Time’s pendulum
ready to dethrone
Histories sordid past,
through means that
Move Change Forward
Change 1960s–
Change 1980s–
Change 2020–
Move Change Forward
or get left behind

© 2020 Michelle Kogan

Our Poetry Friday Round up is hosted today by Ruth Bowen Hersey, at her blog There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town. Thanks for hosting Ruth! Ruth’s invited us all to a party at her blog and has some delightful poems celebrating parties and all that come, so stop by her blog and breathe in all the poetry goodness there…

Visit Renée LaTulippe’s site No Water River to find out more about what Poetry Friday is.


About Michelle Kogan Art, Illustration, & Writing

Michelle Kogan is an artist, illustrator, instructor, and writer, creating colorful allegorical figure, flora and fauna paintings and children's illustrations, which have a sensitivity to endangered species, and the environment. She is an art instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Evanston Art Center and offers Plein Air Painting Workshops at nature venues in the Chicago area including the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Lurie Gardens at Millennium Park. Visit her online Etsy Shop at: http://www.MichelleKoganFineArt.etsy.com and her website: http://www.michellekogan.com
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8 Responses to #Poetry Friday–James Baldwin

  1. haitiruth says:

    Heavy stuff here, Michelle, but necessary! Thank you! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

  2. Linda Mitchell says:

    Michelle, thank you. I’ve seen lots of references to James Baldwin lately and haven’t taken the plunge yet like you have. I so appreciate his ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ and your response. I aim to read more Baldwin. I think his words speak to today…or maybe it’s that his words were loud enough to carry into today. I love your line, “Time bickers with History.”

  3. laurashovan222 says:

    Baldwin’s poem and your response made my skin prickle today. Staggerlee Wonders is a great reminder that poets are, should, have always been calling attention to social justice issues.

  4. cvarsalona says:

    Michelle, it must feel great to have analyzed Baldwin’s lengthy poem, used it as a mentor text, and created your own poem. Change is a constant theme and I thought that what happened years back has not caused change to move more rapidly. These lines struck me as interesting as a midpoint pause: I turn, turn, stagger, stumble out,
    into the healing air,
    fall flat on the healing ground,
    singing praises, counselling
    my heart, my soul, to praise.

  5. Wow, Michelle, thank you for this post. Baldwin’s poem is a zinger in the most timely and appropriate way for 2020. Your response poem is a zinger unto itself. “Time bickers with History” – ain’t that the truth! Yes, let’s Move, Change, Forward!

  6. Linda KulpTrout says:

    Michelle, James Baldwin’s poem is so powerful as it yours. Thank you for sharing this today.

  7. Michelle, thank you for digging deep and for sharing Baldwin–both his own words and your reflective, powerful poem.

  8. maryleehahn says:

    Wow. I bookmarked that one to go back to over and over again. When I’m falling into the trap of individualism, I’ll read it and remind myself I’m a part of the collective White he writes about.
    “The sons of greed, the heirs of plunder,
    are approaching the end of their journey:”

    Thanks for bringing this poem to our attention, and for your reflection on it.

    (This part made me almost snort my tea:

    “This flag has been planted on the moon:
    it will be interesting to see
    what steps the moon will take to be revenged
    for this quite breathtaking presumption.”)

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