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

Helene Johnson, "Fiat Lux" (1926)

Note: this poem contains an offensive racial slur. 

Her eyes had caught a bit of loveliness,
A flower blooming in the prison yard;
She ran to it and pressed it to her lips,
This Godsend of a land beyond the walls;
She drank its divine beauty with her kiss.

A guard wrested the flower from her hand--
With awful art her humble back laid bare,
Soft skin and darker than a dreamless night;
He tossed aside the burden of her hair.
"I'll teach you to pick flowers in this yard.
They ain't for niggers." He began to flog.

Her pale palmed hands grasped the thin air in quest
Until, like two antalgic words, they fell
And whispered something to her heaving breast.
Then she forgot the misery of her back.
Somehow she knew that God, her God was there:
That what was pain was but her striped flesh.
Her soul, inviolate, was havened in prayer.
On a cross of bigotry she was crucified
Because she was not white. And like her Father
On the holyrood, whispered "Forgive."
And in her eyes there shone a Candlemas light.

He flung the whip into the flower bed
He did not even see that she was dead. 

Published in The Messenger, July 1926

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