Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"he mus' know sumpin'..."

"...Ol' man river,
dat ol' man river
he mus' know sumpin',
but don't say nuthin'.
He jes' keeps rollin',
He keeps on rollin' along..."
Jerome Kerns

October, 2008.  "Obama Headquarters" the notation in my calendar reads. It makes me happy.  It is a beautiful day.  Campaign headquarters is about 5 blocks from our house and I love walking through the "old neighborhood."  It is a neighborhood that once heard the sounds of the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair,as they were happening...within earshot...just across Forest park.

I walk from our block filled with University housing and stately re-furbished turn-of-the-century brick homes, through less gentrified streets noisy with children playing and plastic flowers in peeling window boxes, to quieter blocks where men, who were once boys, sit on porch steps, and women who were once girls...fan themselves with folded paper, smooth the skirts of voluminous housedresses, and laugh from their place-in-the-shade just under the sloping roof of a once-grand porch. 

Songs like William Warfield's "
Old Man River,"  Louis Armstrong's "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," and Judy Garland's "Meet Me In St. Louis," provide the inner soundtrack for this loved journey through streets that I love.  I can't help but open my heart to the beauty of the day, the once-upon-a-time grandeur of what this neighborhood was, and the promise of the future. 

This is the poem that I found as a journal entry for that day:  

"I love this
I think,
as I walk
broken concrete
lifted and cracked
by the roots
of hundred year old
planted for the
1904 World's Fair.
I am
on my way to
a place where
I have purpose,
I am needed,
where I have
"things to do
and people to see"

The houses are
grand dames
who still
show up in
boucle' suits and
pillbox hats
as ladies-who-lunch
and go for
but their
lipstick is
not as straight as
it once was,
orthopedic shoes
have replaced
red pumps with ankle straps and
real silk
stockings with
seams up
the back.

He calls to me from a
crumbling stoop.


A tip of his brown felt
the other thumb looped
around a striped suspender,
his wing-tipped oxfords are polished
to a  spit-shine
a skill learned by many-a-soldier
in 1944.

I cheerfully parry back, without
missing a beat in the
staccato of my late October
I am happy.
I am
gaily skipping along
under leaves of gold and
scarlet filtering the
bright light of
an autum blue

"sweet tea?"
he returns.


"sweet tea?"
he repeats, lifting a glass and a
round pitcher filled with
tea and ice and mint-leaves
floating on top
barges on the

"i would...."
but I have places to go
and people to see.

I have a campaign to volunteer for.

why, we are going to elect the first
black man ever nominated, to be
the President of the United
States of America. 

"sweet tea?" he asks

And I remember he
is the man. 

"yes," I say, "that would be

And he makes room for me on
his crumbling porch steps.

But first he pulls a pressed and
neatly folded handkerchief...from the pocket of
his white button down shirt, yellowed with age, but
perfectly starched and ironed...and
lies it on the top step for me to sit upon
like a flourished cape across
a muddy rivelet.

I am a princess and he is a gentleman with
sweet tea and  a
handkerchief, a voice like
Dr. King, a smile like
Satchmo, and
stories I will listen to
with the hunger of
a granddaughter
aching for her

Stories that will make me laugh
with the telling of,
break with the knowledge of,
and weep over, long after
his grandson arrives home,
and I have continued
walking down a sycamore-shaded
city street on
a crisp October day.

His stories will fuel my resolve,
and inspire my prayers...

...not for the election of "a man"
but for the emancipation of
all men, women and children...
from the slavery of
"time-honored systems" and
the kind of hatred that is borne of
years of never
being willing to sit with
one another,
linger on a porch step,
accept a jelly-glass of
iced sweet tea,
and hear
each other's

still, with hope...audacious hope,


Kate Robertson, CS

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:39 AM

    I LOVE this!! Your poem evoked great images of your walk to "Obama Headquarters." Thank you for sharing it and your hope!♥