Marilyn Nelson

Andrew Williams

There ain‘t nothing shameful in good, honest work.
It‘s a proud man who brings home a decent wage.
Keep your head down; listen when rich folks talk.
Fine leather boots mark a financial sage.

One foot on my box, Mister Man stands tapping The News
on his knee, talking shop confidentially with a friend.
I swipe off the filth, then, with a clean rag, smooth
the boot with lampblack, beeswax, and lanolin.

I deal merchandise shipped in on the Erie Canal.
Buy low, sell high. I bought land for the right to vote.
(You massage through the boot: caress the toes, the heel.
If you‘re lucky, he‘ll say what‘s coming on tomorrow‘s boat.)

Thanks to dropped tips, I‘m the bootblack who owns this place.
I may bow at their knees, shushing with the horsehair brush,
but I buff with spit on a rag to a mirrored face
aflame with pride, blazing like a burning bush.

Epiphany Davis

I set up my cash box and my bones and cards
on Broadway, most days, offering what I see
of what‘s to come. For a donation, words
fall from my mouth, surprising even me.

Uncle Epiphany doesn‘t forecast death
or illness worse than gout or a broken bone.
The sailors stop. They listen with caught breath
as I tell them some girl‘s heart is still theirs alone.

(. . . or not. Young love is such a butterfly.)
Girls come, arms linked, giggling behind their fans.
The sad come. Uncle Epiphany does not lie.
I close shop, and come back up here to my land.

It‘s a new world up here, of beggar millionaires:
neighbors who know how we all scrimped and saved
to own this stony swamp with its fetid air,
to claim the dream for dreamers yet enslaved.

I‘m Epiphany Davis. I am a conjure-man.
I see glimpses. Glass towers. A horseless vehicle.
An American President who is half African.
Until you pay me, that‘s all I‘m going to tell.


Marilyn Nelson's most recent book is a collaboration with Elizabeth Alexander called Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Forthcoming in October 2008 is a new book called The Freedom Business. She is the author or translator of twelve books and three chapbooks. Nelson is a professor emerita of English at the University of Connecticut; founder and director of Soul Mountain Retreat, a small writers' colony; and the former (2001—2006) Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut.


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Jane Sutherland: I choose subjects that I cherish, or that spring from deep rooted feelings, or that come to me intuitively--dogs, roses, cranes, an iconic work of sculpture; and I concentrate on the details and slightest disparities in color, tone and textures in order to show how extraordinary are things we think we know and take for granted. The process of painting for me is connected to the physical properties of the subject as well as to its meanings, associations, and memories.
32 Poems
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