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

Arna Bontemps, "Nocturne of the Wharves" (1928)

All night they whine upon their ropes and boom
Against the dock with helpless prows :
These little ships that are too worn for sailing
Front the wharf but do not rest at all.
Tugging at the dim, grey wharf they think,
No doubt, of China and of bright Bombay.
And they remember islands of the East,
Formosa, and the mountains of Japan
They think of cities, ruined, by the sea
And they are restless, sleeping at the wharf.

Tugging at the dim, grey wharf they think
No less of Africa. An east wind blows
And salt spray sweeps the unattended decks.
Shouts of dead men break upon the night.
The captain calls his crew and they respond
The little ships are dreaming—land is near.
But mist comes up to dim the copper cast.
Mist dissembles images of the trees.
The captain and his men alike are lost.
And their shouts go down in the rising sound of waves.

* * * * * 

Ah little ships, I know your weariness
I know the sea-green shadows of your dream.
For I have loved the cities of the sea,
And desolations of the old days I
Have loved: I was a wanderer like you
And I have broken down before the wind.

Published in Carolina Magazine, May 1928

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