Twenty-six Ways of Looking at a Blackman (Raymond Patterson)

January 20, 2009


On the road we met a blackman,
But no one else.


Dreams are reunions. Who has not
On occasion entertained the presence
of a blackman?


From brown paper bags
A blackman fills the vacancies of morning
With orange speculations.


Always I hope to find
The blackman I know,
Or one who knows him.


Devouring earthly possessions
Is one of a blackman’s excesses.
Exaggerating their transiency
Is another.


Even this shadow has weight.
A cool heaviness.
Call it a blackman’s ghost.


The possibilities of color
Were choices made by the eye
Looking inward.
The possibilities of rhythms
For a blackman are predetermined.


When it had all been unravelled,
The blackman found that it had been
Entirely woven of black thread.


Children who loved him
Hid him from the world
By pretending he was a blackman.


The fingerprints of a blackman
Were on her pillow. Or was it
Her luminous tears?
…An absence, or a presence?
Only when it was darker
Would she know.


The blackman dipped water
From a well.
And when the well dried,
He dipped cool blackness.


We are told that the seeds
Of rainbows are not unlike
A blackman’s tears.


What is more beautiful than black flowers,
Or blackmen in fields
Gathering them?
…The bride, or the wedding?


When it was finished,
Some of the carvers of Destiny
Would sigh in relief,
But the blackman would sigh in intaglio,
Having shed the vain illusions in mastering the stone.


Affirmation of negatives:
A blackman trembles
That his thoughts run toward darkness.


The odor of a blackman derives
No less from the sweat of his apotheosis,
Than emanation of crushed apples
He carries in his arms.


If I could imagine the shaping of Fate,
I would think of blackmen
Handing the sun.


Is it harvest time in the brown fields,
Or is it just a black man


There is the sorrow of blackmen
Lost in cities. But who can conceive
Of cities lost in a blackman?


A small boy lifts a seashell
To his listening ear.
It is the blackman again,
Whispering his sagas of drowned sailors.


At the cradle of Justice were found
Three gifts: a pair of scales, a sword,
And a simple cloth. But the Magi had departed.
Several who were with us agreed
One of the givers must have been
A blackman.


As vines grow towards light,
So roots grow towards darkness.
Back and forth a blackman goes,
Gathering the harvest.


By moonlight
We tossed our pebbles into the lake
And marveled
At the beauty of concentric sorrows.
You thought it was like the troubled heart
Of a blackman,
Because of the dancing light.


As the time of our leave taking drew near,
The blackman blessed each of us
By pronouncing the names of his children.


As I remember it,
The only unicorn in the park
Belonged to a blackman
Who went about collecting bits
And torn scraps of afternoons.


At the center of Being
Said the blackman,
All is tangential.
Even this laughter, even your tears.


There are very few poems that leave me feeling almost as if I had no right to have read them, to have entered the sacred spaces of their utterance. Patterson’s masterpiece is one. Seldom does a poem speaks so philosophically on the one hand, and can make you laugh out loud on the other. This contemplative testament to the interior life of black men is as root-dark as it is whimsical and celebratory, and I think it should be taught beside Stevens’ famous blackbird. I feel blessed–deeply, strangely blessed–each time I read it.


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