Migration Suite

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, Van Fleet Mississippi 1928
(After Isabel Wilkerson)

ida mae’s most memorable toys were
water moccasins
she dangled them
from the tips of sticks tossed the snakes
into the air & caught them (on the sticks
not in her hands)

she hunted rabbits with a branch
would sneak up on a sleeping one
& whack it on the head
good eating

ida mae couldn’t grab enough cotton
to fill a pair of socks or plow
a straight furrow but she cut wood
& liked killing snakes &
her father loved her for that
& for smaller unnamed things too

in a diabetic coma the grownups
thought him dead but ida mae said no
he’s not cold but what did a kid know
they buried him warm in the church yard


Jim Crow

so there never can be a question of where you walk
you must get the hell off the sidewalk
if a white person approaches

the lifts put you much too close to us
go to the freight elevator as that is what you are

at the bus & train stations you will be in the colored waiting room
even if it costs us twice as much to maintain one

use the colored window at the post office
& call on the colored public telephone so we won’t have
nigger earwax rubbing on our ears & nigger breath
laid near our mouths

if you reach an intersection before a white person
wait for the white car to go through before proceeding
& never pass a white driver on the road you arrogant bastard
any accident with a white driver is your fault as you know

never speak first to a white person or contradict a white person
or be first to offer your hand to a white person
never speak to or look at a white woman unless you want to be chopped up
& barbecued

park in the colored parking spaces across the street
if we have to drag your thieving ass to court
swear on the colored bible as the testaments
& gospels don’t mean the same for you & us
god will explain this when you die & your black soul
goes to whatever garbage dump nigger souls go to



so i tell short willie “short willie you too mad
to talk to that colored-hating ofay
wait till you cool down” but you know short willie
he always swinging on some two-ton motherfucker
‘scuse my french & getting a mudhole stomped
into his little ass ‘scuse my french
but it’s settling-up time & every year
short willie got to listen to this big no-neck peckerwood
he sharecrop for call the numbers out his book
“this much for flour that much for vet fees”
for that crazy mule farts in short willie’s face
all day long damn mule won’t gee nor will he haw
‘scuse my french “this much for a screen door
& that much for tin & lumber for the roof
& your crop weren’t worth that much
so you owe me this much plus what
you been owing me but don’t you worry
i’ma still give y’all credit at the store ‘cause
you & florine ‘bout the best fieldhands i got
maybe if you stop wasting that little picanniny
a yourn’s time in school & put him out in the field
where he belong at you might can break even”

now that’s the wrong thing for that cracker to say
‘cause short willie real proud of how smart little willie be
& he pick guitar good too for such a young boy
so. short willie go off on the boss’ ass ‘scuse my french
he call that man everything but a child of god.
short willie he says “every year you pull this same shit”
‘scuse my french “i know i bring in the best crops
in the county & they worth a whole lot more
than what i takes out that fucked-up store you run”
‘scuse my french “& you left a whole lotta bales
out the count like you do all the time
now you want me to take my boy outta school
well little willie he ain’t never gon do stoop work
for no cheating slave-driving white man like you”

that’s when the big redneck jam his 44
into short willie’s belly all the way up to the cylinder
tell short willie “nigger how you like a hole
in your ass so big your goddamn stomach fall out”
‘scuse my french “you won’t be the first coon
i done skint nor the last one neither
so you best haul your black ass on down the hill”
‘scuse my french “& start getting them acres
ready for next year’s crop”

but you know short willie he always got to say
one more thing so soon as he got the mule
up to a gallop he holler “i ain’t gon take
this shit no more” ‘scuse my french
“that black ass is the last part of me you ever gon see
i’ma get my family on up outta here & you can tear
your own fingers up on them damn cotton burrs
so fuck you & the horse that brung you”
‘scuse my french

now i done told short willie & told short willie “short willie
if you going just go & keep your fool mouth shut
for the lord’s sake don’t tell no white folks”
but short willie that little banty rooster
say he ain’t scared of no cracker
& he lollygags along trying to sell off all his stuff
& running his mouth ‘bout how he cuss out this white man
i mean if you ain’t scared of a alabama peckerwood
then you ain’t scared of a rattlesnake
& if you ain’t scared of a rattlesnake
you ain’t got good sense & you know short willie
sometimes ain’t got the sense god gave a mule tick

everybody know you don’t take the bus
from downtown where they knows you
you goes down to birmingham & takes
the illinois central up to fulton kentucky &
transfer on to chicago but that fool short willie
go to town in his sunday-go-to-meeting suit
& try to buy bus tickets
& the sheriff there waiting for him
the boss man done turned him in
the sheriff he took & charge short willie
with vagrancy or some shit ‘scuse my french
& sell him to the sloss- sheffield mines
up in coalburg for ten years & split the money
with that hateful redneck short willie
been sharecropping for

you remember lee otis mincey
from over yonder in plumbnelly used to stack
the hundred pound croaker sacks
at the tater grader? sheriff sold him
to that mine & when he come out
six-seven years later poor lee otis
wasn’t no more good
couldn’t walk right couldn’t stand straight
blind in one eye couldn’t see out the other
hollered at haints & shadows all night long
with the mouth short willie got on him
he ain’t coming out atall

i’m sure lord mighty ‘blidged to you for driving us
down to birmingham in your nice packard
reverend bascom & don’t worry i got the gas
both ways even though i thinks eight cents
is way too much for a gallon
i promised short willie through the jailhouse window
“hope god may kill me short willie
i’ma take your family on up out of here”

my sister constance she up in chicago doing real good
she say they charges negroes three times
the rent they charges white folks
but she got her a beauty parlor
makes plenty money
fixing the ladies heads for church
florine sleeping back there
with little willie’s head in her lap
she fry hair real good too &
sis’ constance gon rent her a stall
& little willie he can go to school
& get him a little job
they can stay with sis’ constance
help her out with the rent
constance she say i can get work
toting quarters at the meat packing plant
i’ma send for mocile
soon as i gets us a place

nawsuh reverend bascom i knows
we ain’t crossing the river jordan today
chicago ain’t gon be no kinda heaven
but down here in alabama a negro
got the buzzard’s luck
cain’t kill nothing
won’t nothing die


Harlem: Minton’s Playhouse
         (Yeah, I know. I took a lot of liberties.)

ladies & gentlemen cats & kitties
tonight at minton’s playhouse
we got the band to flip the music
from the jumping jive to the atomic groove
hooked up by our piano professor
with the mystery vonce thelonious sphere monk
from rocky mount north carolina
walking the bass from waynesbora virgina
is red calendar
that young blood kicking the drum kit
is from newtown north carolina
which i hear is way back up
in the great dismal swamp
don’t serve him liquor bartender
‘cause he’s just eighteen years old
let’s have a big hand
for max mac skibbon zout roach

wailing his ass off on the tenor saxophone
is that short man with the giant sound
from savannah georgia
he’s in the mood for love ladies
give it up for james moody

swinging his way down from the stratosphere
you know the beret the horn rims
& the goatee if you don’t know him
lay five on five
for cheraw south carolina’s finest
john birks gillespie
known for good reason
to squares
& hipsters alike as dizzy

i ain’t hip to how they all slid out
of dixie to jam up here at minton’s
but could you dig these cats out in a field
grabbing cotton & shouting work songs ‘bout
ain’t that berta coming
down the road?
well she
looks like berta
but she
walks too slow

these studs got horns to shout with

like james moody o rooney mo
how do you fall out of savannah
blowing that much horn? this cat can blow
a line so long deep & warm
you’ll want to sleep inside of it
his old lady told me he even snores in b flat

red walks his bass but if he walks it slow
it’s to send that gone frame
he’s got eyes for there at the front table
& max don’t like to walk at all
he likes to drive & there’s no speed limit
in those swinging spheres he travels through

speaking of spheres thelonious monk
ain’t weird like they say
he knows weird he dances with weird
he wrote weird’s theme song so it lays
just past where your ear
thinks is as far out as it can go
but he’s a very hip cat
the band’s gonna lay a monk tune on you
that’s so far out it’s in


those are the sounds
we’re putting down
the new blues that brews here in harlem
blues on blues in blues

like the poet said
you got to dig it to dig it
if you don’t dig it
you won’t dig it

so cats & kitties
that’s all the hipness
we gon’ lay on you tonight
always be cool & go forever in vout