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

Fenton Johnson, "The Mother o' Dusk and Her Babe" (1928)

The Mother o’ Dusk and Her Babe

By Fenton Johnson

I look and that I see appeals to me
As does the manger Babe to Christian man,
For she who mothered long another’s brood
Upon her lap in rapture holds a child
That came from deep travail to claim her love.

Upon its lips she prints a deathless kiss
And holds against her breast its trembling form 
And through the night she croons a strange old song
That tells the world, “Behold, I have my own.”

For she is mother now, that once was such
A cruel world with jibes derided her
And asked her, “Where are those you brought to light?
Where all those hopes you said were yours to give?”

I hear this turbaned mother plead, “O world, 
My hopes have shaped themselves in flesh o’ brown
And all my deeds have given light to eyes
That grasp its infant hour of wonderment.
Take now my suckling, let it live for thee
And when its manhood breaks its spirit’s bound
It shall defend thee, succour thee and love
The good that through the ages thou hast served.”

And when the child in sleep would close its eyes
This strong young mother lifts with tenderness
This proselyte to all the joys and woes
An ancient world would give to test its own
And lays it snug within its trundle bed
And lets the moonlight play upon its form.

Published in The Crisis, January 1928

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