On Re-Reading Langston Hughes’s “Christ in Alabama”1

by Panayotis League

Whose fathers play about with names?

I read, and see my fathers’ lands, my mothers’ hands.
A nudge, a smack that smarts,
caresses: precious few, and treasured,
fallen teeth to stash under my pillow,
mash that empty space with swollen tongue,
and dream.

Lord, take away this old pig-bone
and give me one of iron.

I read, and weeping, fingers creep
across the cracks and cricks,
the chinks in this dull armor
bought for me by time and distance.

So throw it off, that helmet. Dive,
and rake your fingers through the mud.

I read, and see fat pharaohs stride down rows of smoke,
soft pyramids of dirty white on either side.
Head bent, ashen knuckles, lean and grey,
an old man, empty,

We all are children of this corn. It grows
where’er you plant it, chokes out weeds
and fragrant buds alike.
And if you count the kernels
– windows to our yellowed souls –
you’ll see the stuff of which we’re made.

I read, and sleep, and crosses burn.

And boats,
and skin,
and ligaments.

A crying child wakes me,
anger wailing in my belly,
to the nightmare of our History.

Epiphany, January 6, 2021

Note 1: Langston Hughes’s “Christ in Alabama

Panayotis League is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology and Director of the Center for Music of the Americas at Florida State University.

Cover image credits: ©Georgetown University, Civil Rights Blog