So, without further lead-in and ado...
Somewhere in these North Laurel woods
I imagine there are butter beans,
radishes and lettuce, eggplants and beets
appearing year after year
to remind us of you, Sterling Brown,
and the words that you found
in the fields and the streets
giving voice to the lives of ordinary folks.
The rural place you knew is gone.
Grass grows where plows once cut.
Office buildings rise
from the fields where you ran.
Harmony Lane (or what remains)
no longer leads to the Freedman’s town,
its small frame houses
lost to rising values of land.
The old colored school,
demolished to make way
for luxury townhomes.
All Saints Church, gone,
nothing left on its former site,
not even the graves of those
who worshiped within its walls.
It’s all neighborhoods now
filled with folks of all collars,
all colors living side-by-side
(though the old divides of race and class
still exist for you to comment on).
History lives in this county to the north and the west.
Memories here were bulldozed and paved
in the name of progress and smart growth.
We are left with only names on roads—
Whiskey Bottom, All Saints,
Stephens, Earl Levy,
and the one developers named after you—
but, no one remembers; no one knows.
Poetry lives elsewhere too.
The kids learn Langston,
but they don’t know you,
don’t know a poet once walked these woods.
Did you carve your name into trees,
like those today who carve and tag
to be remembered? Isn’t that all
any of us want? To be remembered?
Here in these woods, I ask:
Where is the poet
bringing baskets of words
in from the fields?
Who will sing the stories and names
of those from our past
and those here today?
Ah, Sterling, we are the poets.
We bring the words that carry our lives.
But, you knew that, didn’t you?
That the poet is more
than the name on the road
that leads to where the butter beans grew.