In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep my eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.
~ Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks was born on this day in 1917. Her first book of poetry, The Streets of Bronzeville, published in 1945, was based on life in South Side Chicago, and published on the recommendation of Richard Wright, who thought the poems captured "the pathos of petty destinies, the whimper of the wounded, the tiny incidents that plague the lives of the desperately poor, and the problem of common prejudice...."(Via [I think I should do PR for] Today in Literature)
Wright himself was more militant. His explosive bestseller Black Boy was also published in 1945, and on this day in 1941 he published "Not My People’s War," which argued that the U.S. should worry less about saving the world by joining WWII and more about saving places like Bronzeville through racial reform.
Wright soon left the U.S. for good. Brooks stayed in Chicago all her life, and became a lot more militant. Looking back in her 1972 autobiography, she clearly felt that her early poetic snapshots of discrimination were tame and naïve:
"Of course, in that time, it was believed, still, that the society could be prettied, quieted, cradled, sweetened, if only people talked enough, glared at each other yearningly enough, waited enough."