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

Harriette Shadow Butcher, "The Memory of Colonel Charles Denton Young" (1925)

With satin skin and body bare, they beat the air with drum;
They sang a weird, uncanny song that seemed to strike them numb;
Full passionate their bodies beat to time not elsewhere heard—
A melody of wind and rain and gentle song of bird.

   When hawk and eagle fly by night,
   There shines on each the same moon’s light.

With satin skin and body bare they danced to sun and star,
They stalked the mighty game to lair, and drew men near and far;
With milky skin and body decked a people came to see
What made the satin bare-skinned men so happy and so free.

   When hawk and eagle search by day,
   They seek, forsooth, the self-same prey.

The simple truth they failed to see, it lay before their eyes:
The men with satin skins were kings; they wore no motley dyes;
They reached their goal on sweeping wings—such wings as eagles fly.
The nightingale no longer sings when hawks go sailing by.

   O eagle, spread your wings tonight;
   Let not the hawk get out of sight.

The milky skins took bodies bare across the ocean wide;
They made them slaves to their command, their souls they could not guide.
All day the slaves worked in the sun, to till the soil their task,
They suffered all that humans could and wore a smiling mask.

   The eagle soars high in the air;
   It holds a place no hawk will dare.

With nothing they could call their own, no earthly prize to win,
Their hidden souls were theirs alone,—a holiness within;
They held their heads as eagles do and looked into the sky.
The hawks made circles in the air and with great pride flew by.

   O hawk, fold up your wings tonight.
   The eagle’s flown far from your sight.

Crusader, you of our own time, who proved to all the world
That red and blue and white are strong when in ene emblem furled;
Crusader, true, of our own time, who left a country fair,
You turned a Son to your own clime—a Son with kingly air.
For, radiant in your consciousness beneath your carriage bold,
There shone your heritage of strength—a gift that eagles hold.

Published in The Crisis, April 1925

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