i hear america singing.
i heard them howl with sun nipped skin, caught the chorus
at the tree, where her kids called me a nigger and hung the old boy,
where the slave crouched for rest, and was ripped red,
where they stood for auction, black and waxed,
where the lemonade stand is. i heard them singing.
so the girl behind the stand would start up, one melody off key,
sweet bonnet hair and smile, and say ‘two sugar cubes or three’
and talk about how she’s 25 cents shy of her white doll, so I
give her a dollar and let her sing about working in the sun
till her foot bleeds and her throat closes. i hear her singing too.
so the bodies of slaves stand like wet choirs
only they sing with their chains, clanking hard
knocking rust and rust ‘cuz they don’t share tongues
but they know about running and freedom
so when its time they raise fists
to hot air and hot air melts the oil on their backs.
they pound those fists and chains to their chest
but no one hears the rhythm. i hear them singing, too.
so the girl left her first born and her back is ailing her, but her whole
body too, but her heart too, and everything worth going bad
in a soul seems to be awry, from the throat to the feet.
no one sees them wobble but when she sits beneath the shade
and the wavy sky, she hears some twisted version of this singing
and starts humming to the beat no one’s hearing,
until she’s slashed in the face and the side
so her dress peels with skin, so her skin has the notes and the words
joined together in carved flesh. i hear her singing, too.
so the boy, 26, wooly hair and slim,
runs all the roads, all of county, until they catch him
and they start rolling and roaring and screaming,
until he sings back the chorus, only higher pitched,
only louder, only like his heart’s wailing too,
so then they drag him and that lengthens all the wails,
turns them nasty and gravelly for the hook,
then when he’s hissing and sputtering out the words
they hang him and watch him sway and swing
to the soft america-song. i hear him singing, too.
i hear america singing
i hear every note.