Watercolour for Negro Expatriates in France

1          What are calendars to you?
2And, indeed, what are atlases?
3          Time is cool jazz in Bretagne,
4you, hidden in berets or eccentric scarves,
6where you are tin-men requiring hearts,
7lion-men demanding courage,
8scarecrow-men needing minds all your own
10          Geography is brown girls in Paris
11in the spring by the restless Seine
12flowing like blood in chic, African colonies;
14in the lonely, brave, old rented rooms;
15Gallic wines shocking you out of yourselves,
16leaving you as abandoned
19          What are borders/frontiers to you?
20In actual seven-league sandals,
22in your street-artist imaginations .-
23across the sky darkened,
24here and there, by Nazi shadows,
26and, in other places, by Americans
27who remind you
28that you are niggers,
30          Night is winged Ethiopia in the distance,
31rising on zeta beams of radio free Europe,
32bringing you in for touchdown at Orleans;
33or, it is strange, strychnine streetwalkers,
34fleecing you for an authentic Negro poem
35or rhythm and blues salutation.
36This is your life .-
38parks, facing nightmares of contorted
39lynchers every night. Every night.
40          Scatalogical ragtime reggae haunts the caverns
42newspapers and TIME magazines,
43learn that this one was arrested,
44that one assassinated;
46in the hands of a mob;
48not even knowing that
49all Black people not residing in Africa
50are kidnap victims.
51          After all, how can you be an expatriate
52of a country that was
53never yours?
54          Pastel paintings on Paris pavement,
56you pause and admire them all;
57and France entrances you
58with its kaleidoscope cafés,
59chain-smoking intelligentsia,
60absinthe and pernod poets....
61          Have you ever seen postcards
67while the godless globe
68detonates its war heart, loosing
69goose stepping geniuses
70and dark, secret labs.
72I know not how to talk to you.
73I send you greetings from Afrique
74and spirituals of catholic Negritude.
75          Meanwhile, roses burst like red stars,
76a flower explodes for a special sister.
77You do not accept gravity in France
78where everything floats on the premise
79that the earth will rise to meet it
80the next day;
81where the Eiffel Tower bends over backwards
82to insult the Statue of Liberty;
83and a woman in the flesh of the moment
84sprouts rainbow butterfly wings
85and kisses a schizoid sculptor
86lightly on his full, ruby lips;
87and an argument is dropped over cocoa
88by manic mulatto musicians
91in common prayers.
93You need no passports.
94Your ticket is an all-night room
95facing the ivory, voodoo moon,
97and your senses, inexplicably
98homing in on gorgeous Ethiopia,
99while Roman rumours of war
100fly you home.

Notes

5] over the rainbow: Judy Garland's song from the film of Baum's The Wizard of Oz (1939), a story of a Kansas girl blown by a tornado to the magical world of Oz, where she goes on a quest (accompanied by Hunk the Scarecrow, Zeke the Cowardly Lion, and Hickory the Tin Man) for the help of a good wizard in helping her to return home. Back to Line
9] DuBois: W.E.B. DuBois, a pioneer pan-Africanist (1868-1949) born in the USA, died in Ghana. Back to Line
13] Josephine Baker: African-American dancer-singer (1906-75), catapulted to fame in Paris in a musical, La Revue Nègre, in the 1920s. Back to Line
17] Leadbelly: Huddie Ledbetter (1885-1949), a black singer whose recordings recovered unwritten folk songs and popular ballads. Back to Line
18] Shantytown: generic name for a poor, shabby, run-down neighbourhood. Back to Line
21] Monet: French impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840-1926). Back to Line
25] Krupp: Nazi arms manufacturer. Back to Line
29] Victor Hugo: French Romantic poet and writer (1802-60), author of Les Miserables (1862). Back to Line
37] Richard Wright: African-American novelist (1908-60), well-known for his Native Son. Back to Line
41] le métro: underground subway in Paris. Back to Line
45] Gregor Samsa: hero of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915) who awakes one morning to discover himself transformed into a giant bug. Back to Line
47] Constance Chatterley: heroine of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). Back to Line
55] Beardsley-styled: Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98), erotic, late-Victorian artist. Back to Line
62] Alabam: desegregation of Montgomery buses only occured late in 1956. Back to Line
63] Mississippi: on June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered by racists. Back to Line
64] Ulyssean: Ulysses, novel by James Joyce (1882-1946). Back to Line
65] Gertrude Stein: US writer-poet (1874-1946). Back to Line
66] Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway, US novelist (1899-1961) and Nobel Prize winner. Back to Line
71] aphasia: loss of the ability to speak as from a stroke. Back to Line
89] Eliot: T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), Anglo-American poet. Back to Line
90] Ellington: Duke Ellington, US jazz bandleader (1899-1974). Back to Line
92] Ma Rainey: Gertrude ."Ma." Rainey (d. 1939), US vaudeville blues singer. Bessie Smith: Bessie Smith (d. 1937), US vaudeville blues singer. Back to Line
96] Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), native "naive" French painter. Back to Line
Publication Notes: 
Lush Dreams, Blue Exile: Fugitive Poems: 1978-1993 (Lawrencetown Beach, NS: Pottersfield Press, 1983): 14.
First published in Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (Porters Lake, NS: Pottersfield Press, 1983).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
Special Copyright: 

<b>This poem cannot be published anywhere without the written consent of George Elliott Clarke or the Pottersfield Press permissions department.</b>