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

James Weldon Johnson, "Down By The Carib Sea" (1917)



Sunrise in the Tropics

    Sol, Sol, mighty lord of the tropic zone,
    Here I wait with the trembling stars
    To see thee once more take thy throne.

    There the patient palm tree watching
    Waits to say, "Good morn" to thee,
    And a throb of expectation
    Pulses through the earth and me.

    Now, o'er nature falls a hush,
    Look! the East is all a-blush;
    And a growing crimson crest
    Dims the late stars in the west;
    Now, a flood of golden light
    Sweeps across the silver night,
    Swift the pale moon fades away
    Before the light-girt King of Day,
    See! the miracle is done!
    Once more behold! The Sun!


Los Cigarillos

    This is the land of the dark-eyed gente,
    Of the dolce far niente,
    Where we dream away
    Both the night and day,
    At night-time in sleep our dreams we invoke,
    Our dreams come by day through the redolent smoke,
    As it lazily curls,
    And slowly unfurls
    From our lips,
    And the tips
    Of our fragrant cigarillos.
    For life in the tropics is only a joke,
    So we pass it in dreams, and we pass it in smoke,

    Tropical constitutions
    Call for occasional revolutions;
    But after that's through,
    Why there's nothing to do
    But smoke--smoke;

    For life in the tropics is only a joke,
    So we pass it in dreams, and we pass it in smoke,



    Of tropic sensations, the worst
    Is, sin duda, the tropical thirst.

    When it starts in your throat and constantly grows,
    Till you feel that it reaches down to your toes,
    When your mouth tastes like fur
    And your tongue turns to dust,
    There's but one thing to do,
    And do it you must,
    Drink teestay.

    Teestay, a drink with a history,
    A delicious, delectable mystery,
    "Cinco centavos el vaso, señor,"
    If you take one, you will surely want more.

     Teestay, teestay,
    The national drink on a feast day;
    How it coolingly tickles,
    As downward it trickles,
    Teestay, teestay.

    And you wish, as you take it down at a quaff,
    That your neck was constructed à la giraffe.
     Teestay, teestay.


The Lottery Girl

    "Lottery, lottery,
    Take a chance at the lottery?
    Take a ticket,
    Or, better, take two;
    Who knows what the future
    May hold for you?
    Lottery, lottery,
    Take a chance at the lottery?"

    Oh, limpid-eyed girl,
    I would take every chance,
    If only the prize
    Were a love-flashing glance
    From your fathomless eyes.

    "Lottery, lottery,
    Try your luck at the lottery?
    Consider the size
    Of the capital prize,
    And take tickets
    For the lottery.
    Tickets, señor? Tickets, señor?
    Take a chance at the lottery?"

    Oh, crimson-lipped girl,
    With the magical smile,
    I would count that the gamble
    Were well worth the while,
    Not a chance would I miss,
    If only the prize
    Were a honey-bee kiss
    Gathered in sips
    From those full-ripened lips,
    And a love-flashing glance
    From your eyes.


The Dancing Girl

    Do you know what it is to dance?
    Perhaps, you do know, in a fashion;
    But by dancing I mean,
    Not what's generally seen,
    But dancing of fire and passion,
    Of fire and delirious passion.

    With a dusky-haired señorita,
    Her dark, misty eyes near your own,
    And her scarlet-red mouth,
    Like a rose of the south,
    The reddest that ever was grown,
    So close that you catch
    Her quick-panting breath
    As across your own face it is blown,
    With a sigh, and a moan.

    Ah! that is dancing,
    As here by the Carib it's known.

    Now, whirling and twirling
    Like furies we go;
    Now, soft and caressing
    And sinuously slow;
    With an undulating motion,
    Like waves on a breeze-kissed ocean:--
    And the scarlet-red mouth
    Is nearer your own,
    And the dark, misty eyes
    Still softer have grown.

    Ah! that is dancing, that is loving,
    As here by the Carib they're known.


Sunset in the Tropics

    A silver flash from the sinking sun,
    Then a shot of crimson across the sky
    That, bursting, lets a thousand colors fly
    And riot among the clouds; they run,
    Deepening in purple, flaming in gold,
    Changing, and opening fold after fold,
    Then fading through all of the tints of the rose into gray,
    Till, taking quick fright at the coming night,
    They rush out down the west,
    In hurried quest
    Of the fleeing day.

    Now above where the tardiest color flares a moment yet,
    One point of light, now two, now three are set
    To form the starry stairs,--
    And, in her fire-fly crown,
    Queen Night, on velvet slippered feet, comes softly down.

Published in Fifty Years and Other Poems

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