Spotlight: Reading Langston Hughes

[poetry]

I’m on a bus reading Langston Hughes’s articles
from The Chicago Defender and I realize
it’s like I have no shadow. I’m on a bus
sitting where I want to and in this article
it’s 1946, and Hughes is in a restaurant
and the hostess insists on seating him
at the back of an empty room in the farthest
corner by the kitchen door. It’s 2017
and I’m reading Hughes writing in 1947
how a young athlete dies because there are no
“negro hospitals” and every “white hospital”
turns him away, and I realize the American dream
is a river that rushes on but still hasn’t met up
with its promises. In 1962 Hughes writes
how Dr. Jane Wright of NYU’s Medical Center
goes to visit a friend at a fashionable apartment
and is directed to the service elevator. Today
it’s 2017 and NPR publishes an article
about African-American women who are assumed
by whites to be “the help,” though they own
the business. So it’s 2017 or it’s 1943, and Hughes
is helping me to understand or to stand under
the weight of these relentless denials. I’m on a bus,
and it’s 1943 and Hughes is telling me the riots
have started, and white shop owners in Harlem
don’t understand why their windows are broken,
and I’m growing weary and want to close the book,
I’m thinking I can close the book, and the book
ends. But Hughes couldn’t, those women on NPR
can’t. For him, for them, the book doesn’t end,
they, like him, are never allowed to leave its covers,
the book covers them, and when I get off the bus
it closes over them, but the story isn’t over.
I can ignore the story though it doesn’t end,
and that is a kind of power, a power that could end it
if I help write that part of the story that ends it,
the part where we all get off the bus, where we all
close the book, and we all live outside its covers.

 

Michael T. YoungMichael T. Young’s fourth collection, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, was published by Poets Wear Prada. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the 2014 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize. He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and The Chaffin Journal’s poetry award. His poetry and prose have appeared in numerous journals, including Ashville Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Little Patuxent Review, Prick of the Spindle, and Potomac Review. His work also appears in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost, and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. He lives with his wife, children, and cats in Jersey City, New Jersey.