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  • McKinsey Crozier

Aaron Kurtz Poems translated by McKinsey Crozier


Harlem — heart

Of urban wonder

New York:

Your swamp lies — isolated,


Your cry is a thousand-voiced —

Like after a factory fire in urban square.

Harlem — heart

Of metropolis, — of the poisoned;

Hunger-island in gloomy fall

In the middle of the golden sea.

Harlem — heart

Of the brutal city:

Sick and hungry — and waiting,

And singing and dancing to God.

"God” made heaven and caves,

"God" has apartments, coal, bread and beer;

Let your skin peel off from need

And you dance — until you crawl.

Remind yourself of the Belgian Congo

And this brute Leopold:

The fifteen million not hanging here,

Because civilization does not stand without them.

It's still burning, burning the jungle,

From you to the hot plantations,

Frolicking in New York Congo,

And make your men dancers.

Harlem, hear:

Your Scottsboro burns over the wide land,

And you accompany the lynch-clan on a flute.

Harlem, hear:

Your own weeping in your flute and voice.

Just not your spiritual, not your tear,

Bring your power, your muscle here:

Legends across the world are circulating

That you used to, with bare hands wage battles in forests

With leopards and lions:

How do you let dogs now

Exalt themselves above you?

Harlem — heart

Of Georgia and Alabama:

How do you become — in your blood of whiplash — entice

For a model of white loot advertising?

Harlem — heart

Of blackest work.

With your patience you expected

To save yourself a bed upon dying:

At every step

You step on a rope,

And the "Creators of your God"

Watch hot kettles of pitch under Harlem bridge.

Harlem, hear

The riots

Outside your door.

Hear, Harlem, hear,

Believe our word,

When we come to you.

Arise, my brother,

My grieving brother.

Get up, and turn

Yourself over Harlem

Will the brethren cross over land —

it won’t be so difficult.

Get up.


Africa burns — a forest of

Burning gallows. A forest of lynched Negroes stand up

Dead resurrected, go down

From the burning gallow-trees

And are set in motion.

With barefoot

Broken feet they walk

By Johannesburg — to Johannesburg. In their gait laments

The chain-clangs

Of Devil's Island, the chain-clangs

Of Georgia chain-gangs, chain-clangs,

From England's slave ships and chain-clangs,

From Good Old Schlissberg.

With barefoot

Broken feet they walk

By Cape Town, to Cape Town, by Little Rock

To Little Rock, by Charleston and Scottsboro,

To Charleston and Scottsboro, by Congo, to Congo, and

Of Harlem and Hawaii — with barefoot,

Burnt feet from out of the desolate white forest

Go them, they go to


Negro love is strong as the earth and fiery

As Negro songs.

The fire of negroes can ignite the earth

And deliver all brethren. Negro marches are firepower

Like Georgia’s rock formations

Which America’s Africa chopped in chain-gang chains

With mean hate

Of the persecuted and condemned and believers

Like Porgy and Bess — the play, the spectacle, the singing

Hate libretto of the White World

Negro ghetto. Africa!

The chain gang hangman burns the steps

And Simon Legree’s whip doesn't stop anything

Cutting strips. Africa! — The black choir sings the world

With touching forest-resonance of the elegy of Anderson-contraltos

And freedom songs by heralding Robeson-basses. Africa!

“Blek Yank”

(an image of Harlem)


Hollow floor.

Hollow table.

A cat.

A cripple’s cough.

Older, ailing person. Old clock —

And the sun.

What does the sun do

To a dry breast?

What does the sun do

In a house that is empty?

A single room.

A single person.

One window — alone:

The sun will not stand here for long.

The heart will not beat for a long time.

The clock — does not tick long.

Not lived, but lived through — a life will pass.

Here is the death everywhere,

He looks crookedly through a mirror shard at the ailing person

A thicker, thicker sack — the poverty, and the sun

Frames this living death image around.

The cat snuggles up to the bed.

The clock is ticking as the sick man speaks:

"Late, kitten, too late."

Yenk is a shredded piece of fever

From the sick world:

Yenk throws the last anchor into the sea of the last ship.

In an instant a man dies, only in that instant does he survive

From life every frost and twinkle:

In an instant, man takes in his entire world

In the corner of the eye:

The room is a fishing boat,

Yankee’s arms — four pairs of oars.

The room is an armored ship,

Yenk — flaming — boiling boilers:

It's the “kind," in the abstinent*, —

On the way to Cuba:

He sees a sea of sailors,

Like wild whales, jumping over waves;

He hears the horrible cry of danger from the trumpet.

The room is a rocky field:

The chain-gang splits rocks with shining crowbars and dark


With every stone slave drivers' eyes flash.

The white driver cracks jokes and torments.

The skies and the whips celebrate with heat.

The clock gleams with the driver’s face — and counts the lashes.

The room is Harlem market,

Where his last son, the veteran, is arrested,

Not for theft, not for dice-game gambling:

For hearing speeches under a red flag.

The room is a mine in an explosion:

Thick, purulent, gray, green gases choking and suffocating;

Yenk rushes to the shady mouth of the mine: to the world

To send a word of the misfortune.

The room is

A southern thorn forest,

And all thorns burn.

Yankee chases over forest by night:

To identify the world’s lynched brothers.

The forest burns closer, closer.

Yenk tugs at his skin like a brown work shirt.

Yenk gets up from his burning bed:

"Moses! Devil! — Who trapped my powerful life

Trapped in blazing forests? "

The forest burns high.

The clock strikes — wrapped in smoke.

It shivers,

The old one’s lip and brow.

"Dog cursed: Here, take!"

Yenk’s breath

Gives no more words.

The cat sleeps at the foot of the bed.

The sun is steals away from the last corner pane —

To look for brighter places.

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