Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2011 v10n1
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Langston Hughes’s Grandma Mary Writes a Love Letter to Lewis Leary Years after He Dies Fighting at Harper’s Ferry

My dearest, sweetest Lew—
It’s like there’s permanence in West
Virginia, not the state, the sound—the rest
After the gin fools you

And the uh goes on like “Lee
And autumn 1859.
I’ve lost all semblance of “I’m fine.”
So I say damn the free

Water beneath the thick
Ice spots on the Cuyahoga and Lake
Erie. Damn rifles. Damn the ache
Of numbness. Snowflakes prick

Your tall Oberlin grave.
I try to scrape it clean with my
Frostbitten index finger. I
Marvel at how the cold can save

A tear, at how I sit
Under my chestnut tree and wait
For nuts, plate Charles’s dinner late,
Allow Louise’s fit

To last another hour.
Damn both my abolitionist
Husbands, their spot–on aim, fist–
in–the–air. Why don’t they glower

Like I do when I yell
Louder than any choir could,
Or, out back, take an ax to wood
And wonder if you fell

Like broken logs, without
Movement, your body dead already,
All solid like a Cleveland eddy
The young ones skate about.

They’re in love with being lovers.
The world’s all to themselves. No sword
Can pierce them when they huddle and hoard
Their weapons under covers.

I wish them ill; no right
To do so, yes, I know. I’m so
Tired of when thin white sheets glow
Dusk red in autumn light.

Damn all Octobers, sin,
Forgiveness. Dam the streams until
Oceans of buried brothers spill
Like grief beneath the skin

Of rivers. Best intentions
And kind regards, Lew, take this letter
As proof I am not getting better.
I am its two dimensions:

Two praying hands, my skirt
Pressed to my thighs pressed closed. Damn brass
Reverie and all the leaves of grass
So green the small blades hurt.  end

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