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

Countee Cullen, "The Wind Bloweth Where it Listeth" (1927)

The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth

“LIVE like the wind,” he said, “unfettered,
And love me while you can;
And when you will, and can be bettered,
Go to the better man.

“For you’ll grow weary, maybe, sleeping
So long a time with me;
Like this there’ll be no cause for weeping;
The wind is always free.

“Go when you please,” he would be saying,
His mouth hard on her own;
That’s why she stayed and loved the staying,
Contented to the bone.

And now he’s dust, and he but twenty,—
Frost that was like a flame;
Her kisses on the head death bent, he
Gave answer to his name.

And now he’s dust and with dust lying
In sullen arrogance;
Death found it hard, for all his trying,
To shatter such a lance.

She laid him out as fine as any
That had a priest and ring;
She never spared a silver penny
For cost of anything.

Her grief is crowned with his child sucking
The milk of her distress,
As if his father’s hands were plucking
Her buds of bitterness.

He may grow tall as any other,
Blest with his father’s face,
And yield her strength enough to smother
What some will call disgrace.

He may be cursed and be concerned
With thoughts of right and wrong,
And brand with “Shame” these two that burned
Without the legal thong.

Her man would say they were no rabble
To love like common clay,—
But Christian tongues are trained to babble
In such a bitter way.

Still, she’s this minted gold to pour her,
This from her man for a mark:
It was no law that held him for her,
And moved his feet in the dark.