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

Arna Bontemps, "Golgotha Is a Mountain" (1926)

[Awarded Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize by Opportunity Magazine, June 1926]

Golgotha is a mountain, a purple mound
Almost out of sight.
One night they hanged two thieves there,
And another man.
Some women wept heavily that night;
Their tears are flowing still. They have made a river;
Once it covered me.
Then the people went away and left Golgotha
Oh, I've seen many mountains:
Pale purple mountains melting in the evening mists and blurring on the borders of the sky.

I climbed old Shasta and chilled my hands in its summer snows.
I rested in the shadow of Popocatepetl and it whispered to me of daring prowess.
I looked upon the Pyrenees and felt the zest of warm exotic nights.
I slept at the foot of Fujiyama and dreamed of legend and of death.
And I've seen other mountains rising from the wistful moors like the breasts of a slender maiden.
Who knows the mystery of mountains!
Some of them are awful, others are just lonely.


Italy has its Rome and California has San Francisco,
All covered with mountains.
Some think these mountains grew
Like ant hills
Or sand dunes.
That might be so —
I wonder what started them all!
Babylon is a mountain
And so is Nineveh,
With grass growing on them;
Palaces and hanging gardens started them.
I wonder what is under the hills
In Mexico
And Japan!
There are mountains in Africa too.
Treasure is buried there:
Gold and precious stones
And moulded glory.
Lush grass is growing there
Sinking before the wind.
Black men are bowing.
Naked in that grass
Digging with their fingers.
I am one of them:
Those mountains should be ours.
It would be great
To touch the pieces of glory with our hands.
These mute unhappy hills,
Bowed down with broken backs,
Speak often one to another:
" A day is as a year, " they cry,
" And a thousand years as one day. "
We watched the caravan
That bore our queen to the courts of Solomon;
And when the first slave traders came
We bowed our heads.
"Oh, Brothers, it is not long!
Dust shall yet devour the stones
But we shall be here when they are gone. "
Mountains are rising all around me.
Some are so small they are not seen;
Others are large.
All of them get big in time and people forget
What started them at first.
Oh the world is covered with mountains!
Beneath each one there is something buried:
Some pile of wreckage that started it there.
Mountains are lonely and some are awful.


One day I will crumble.
They'll cover my heap with dirt and that will make a mountain.
I think it will be Golgotha.

Published in Opportunity, June 1926

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