Brass Spittoons, by Langston Hughes

26 October 2012

A trip to New York this week, and the recommendation of a friend has led to me discovering the work of Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a leading Harlem renaissance poet. (I made it down to DC too, which seems like reason enough to use this photo of janitors at the Capitol, a few years earlier than Hughes was writing.)

//

Clean the spittoons, boy.
Detroit,
Chicago,
Atlantic City,
Palm Beach.
Clean the spittoons.
The steam in hotel kitchens,
And the smoke in hotel lobbies,
And the slime in hotel spittoons:
Part of my life.
Hey, boy!
A nickel,
A dime,
A dollar,
Two dollars a day.
Hey, boy!
A nickel,
A dime,
A dollar,
Two dollars
Buy shoes for the baby.
House rent to pay.
Gin on Saturday,
Church on Sunday.
My God!
Babies and gin and church
and women and Sunday
all mixed with dimes and
dollars and clean spittoons
and house rent to pay.
Hey, boy!
A bright bowl of brass is beautiful to the Lord.
Bright polished brass like the cymbals
Of King David’s dancers,
Like the wine cups of Solomon.
Hey, boy!
A clean spittoon on the altar of the Lord.
A clean bright spittoon all newly polished—
At least I can offer that.
Come ’ere, boy!

[Read in Vintage Hughes. Ripped from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177395.]

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