New Day Jazz

Justin Desmangles

We of the Streets By Richard Wright

Streets are full of the scent of us—odors of onions drifting from doorways, effuvium
    of baby new-born downstairs, seeping smells of warm soap-suds—the streets are
    lush with the ferment of our living.
Our sea is water swirling in gutters; our lightning is the blue flame of an acetylene
    torch; billboards blossom with the colors of a billion flowers; we hear thunder
    when the “L” roars; our strip of sky is a dirty shirt.
We have grown used to nervous landscapes, chimney-broken horizons, and the sun
    dying between tenements; we have grown to love streets, the ways of streets; our
    bodies are hard like worn pavement.
Our emblems are street emblems: stringy curtains blowing in windows; sticky-fingered
    babies tumbling on door-steps; deep-cellared laughs meant for everybody; slow
    groans heard in area-ways.
Our sunshine is a common hope; our common summer and common winter a common
    joy and a common sorrow; our fraternity is shoulder-rubbing crude with unspoken
    love; our password the wry smile that speaks a common fate.
Our love is nurtured by the soft flares of gas-lights; our hate is an icy wind screaming
    around corners.
And there is something in the streets that made us feel immortality when we rushed
    along ten thousand strong, hearing our chant fill the world, wanting to do what
    none of us would do alone, aching to shout the forbidden word, knowing that we
    of the streets are deathless. . . .



from New Masses, April 13, 1937

 Harlan Jackson's Mask No. II (from 1949; shown at right)


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