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from the road is rocky (1951) Editors’ Note: Published in paperback by New Christian Books in New York, this eighty-page collection does not list a publication date; the introduction by Roy Smith, a Georgia labor activist, is dated June 1951. The book features a cover illustration of West by Bill Lytle and drawings by Ida Scheib. The poems are divided into three parts: “A Time for Anger,” “A Time for Rejoicing,” and “A Time for Love.” The book includes blurbs from the poets Langston Hughes, May Justus , and Byron Herbert Reece as well as from West’s fellow activists Alva Taylor and Rev. Claude Williams. The collection is dedicated to the Texas labor organizers Harry and Grace Koger. There’s Anger in the Land Note: In the summer of 1950 I picked up a Negro hitch-hiker in South Georgia and brought him across the Chattahoochee at Eufala, Alabama . As we crossed the river he began telling me the story of how his brother was lynched and his body cut down from the limb and flung across the door-step of his mother’s shack—broken, bleeding and lifeless. Oh, there’s grieving in the plum-grove And there’s weeping in the weeds, There is sorrow in the shanty Where a broken body bleeds . . . For there’s been another lynching And another grain of sand Swells the mountain of resentment— Oh, there’s anger in the land! 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 147 no lonesome road 148 And a woman broods in silence Close beside an open door Flung across the flimsy door-step Lies a corpse upon the floor! You’ll not ask me why I’m silent; Thus the woman spoke to me. Her two eyes blazed forked anger And her throat throbbed agony. Let the wind go crying yonder In the tree-tops by the spring, Let its voice be soft and feeling Like it was a living thing. Once my heart could cry in sorrow Now it lies there on the floor In the ashes by the hearth-stone— They can’t hurt it anymore! Did you ever see a lynching, Ever see a frenzied mob Mill around a swaying body When it’s done the hellish job? Yes, the night was full of terror And the deeds were full of wrong Where they hung him to a beech-wood After beating with a thong. Oh, there’s grieving in the plum-grove And there’s sobbing on the sand, There is sorrow in the shanties— And there’s anger in the land! Sad, Sad America Oh, America— Sad, sad America! Once you stirred the souls of men In dark places And shook the smug oppressors By declaring equal rights for all men! 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 148 selected poems 149 Oh, my country, Land that I love! You have known glorious days In your morning years! The strength of your rugged arms— Sinew of the pioneer— Was raised against the tyrant, To breathe your name Roused hopes in bruised breasts Of the humble in every land And despots cursed you With angry hearts! But now, my country, You eat a bitter fruit, And I must eat with you! You are betrayed by those Who breathe your name With honey love-words! And I, at this moment, Walk in silent sorrow By this rumbling river of time, For these are sad hours— Saddest in my country’s history! Oh, America! Sad, sad this hour When you rattle the atomic sword And your bombs blast Innocent brown babies Eight thousand miles from these shores! Question Mark Why . . . ? The question mark! Dangerous! Why . . . ? Why hunger? 02.Poems.97-194/West 12/2/03, 11:49 AM 149 no lonesome road 150 Why poverty? Why slavery? Why so few rich people? Why do those who work less get more? Why do those who work more get less? Why so many poor people? Why . . . ? Why war when men love peace? Why must a Georgia plow-boy go shoot a brown boy five thousand miles from the furrow he plows? Why do corporations make profits from war, from the blood shed on battlefields? The question mark shakes the world! Sows seeds of rebellion among slaves, and freedom germs. Sprouts doubt weeds in the field of holy war! Why . . . ? Why blind obedience? Why not scrape away scales of prejudice and see— See who fastens them...


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