African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Allison Davis, "Gospel For Those Who Must" (1928)

Gospel for Those Who Must

By Allison Davis

The Leader
One lone bird,
Small and brown,
Singing in the morning
One clear note,

Singing to the high church-steeple
With its needle spire
Pointing to the infinite heaven,
Merging with the far blue sky,

In the fresh vigor of the morning
His one clear call,
Harsh, unvarying, but

Oh, all sweeter, fuller singers,
All loud and busy noises of the mid-day
Drown his voice;

But in the quiet cool of dusk,
By the spire pointing to the far blue vault,
I hear him singing still,

With his one unfaltering call,
With his one clear note
Following the spire.

These of the coal-black faces
Confide low-voiced,—
Fisherman, washerwoman,
Quietly shutting themselves off
From the pool-room loafers.

By the salt spume of the sea,
Tight-lipped against the whispering fears of age,
He holds her laughing,

In his keen eyes the gleam of one who knows
He must endure all shifting winds, and hate
Of deep-embittered sons of slaving race, Must outreach
The hunger of insatiate women,
And broken nets at sea.

Her brave face
Softens with a smile,
And light of youth’s long hopes and passion,
Sunk away;—

But she has seasoned in her proper time
And grown to mellow laughter,
Like some far runner turning with new vigor

Now she is firm against
The tearings of untimely births,
And sweating steam of clothes;
Firm now, at last, against
The pleading smiles
Of brutal melancholy,
Rich-voiced men.

To All Negroes Everywhere
I know lone dwellers on a barren farm,
Who daily drink from acrid waters, rank
With yellow scum and sickening taste,—
Minerals from the dark, deep-hidden earth.

This bitterness they change for health and power,
And stomachs sweetened to their vulgar food,
And now no longer wish
A long draught from the cold, sweet well.

Published in The Crisis, July 1928

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