Read Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems Online
Authors: James Baldwin
I began to imagine a strange thing:
the palace never came any closer.
I began, nervously, to check
my watch, my compass, the stars:
they all confirmed
that I was almost certainly where I should be.
The vegetation was proper
for the place, and the time of year.
The flowers were dying,
but that, I knew,
was virtual, at this altitude.
It was cold,
but I was walking upward, toward the sun,
and it was silent, butâ
silence and I have always been friends.
my journey's end seemed
than I had thought it would be.
I feel as though I have been badly bruised.
I hope that there is no internal damage.
I seem to be awakening
from a long, long fall.
My radio will never work again.
My compass has betrayed me.
My watch has stopped.
I will never find my way to the palace.
I do not know which way to turn.
My progress has been
I should locate the turning
and then start back
and study the road I've travelled.
Oh, I was in a hurry,
but it was not, after all,
if I remember,
an ugly road at all.
Sometimes, I saw
wonders greater than any palace,
and, sometimes, joy leaped out,
mightier than the lightning of my robe,
and kissed my nakedness.
came out of rocks and stones and chains,
wonder baptized me,
old trees sometimes opened, and let me in,
and led me along their roots,
down, to the bottom of the rain.
The green stone,
the scarlet altar-cloth,
the brown ball, the brown boy's face,
the voice, in Norman's Gardens,
trying to say: I love you.
My progress has been discouraging.
But I think I will leave the palace where it is.
It has taken up quite enough of my time.
The compass, the watch, and the radio:
I think I will leave them here.
I think I know the road, by now,
and, if not, well, I'll certainly think of something.
Perhaps the stars will help,
or the water,
a stone may have something to tell me,
and I owe a favor to a couple of old trees
And what was that song I learned from the river
on one of those dark days?
If I can remember the first few notes
I think it went something like
It may have been the day I met the howling man,
who looked at me so strangely.
He wore no coat.
He said perhaps he'd left it at Norman's Gardens,
Perhaps, this time, should we meet again, I'll
stop and rap a little.
A howling man may have discovered something I should know,
something, perhaps, concerning my discouraging progress.
This time, however,
should the voice hold me to tarry,
I'll be given what to carry.
No, I don't feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.
I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
He was standing at the bath-room mirror,
had just stepped out of the shower,
balls retracted, prick limped out of the
thinking of nothing but foam and steam,
when the bell
Not knowing why,
for no reason,
he touched his balls
and heard his wife,
Then, he heard the children,
(They had, more or less,
giggling and conspiring
at the breakfast table.
(They seemed to be happy:
with more to say to each other
than they ever said to him.)
And, then, as he tied the towel
at his waist,
he seemed to hear a kind of
in his house
A kind of moaning, even,
and he looked at himself
in the mirror,
and, for no reason,
he was, suddenly:
He looked at himself,
seeing the face he had
and never seen:
not a bad face,
pink, now, from the steam,
laboring through the fog of the mirror,
to be scrutinized.
one more time.
No, not a bad face at all
a cleft in the chin,
wide mouth, lips that loved
to suck, to close,
big straight teeth,
broad, wide-nostriled nose,
curly black hair,
the face of a Gypsy Jew
And he was, indeed,
and had loved Spain,
when he had walked
years before he had become
Elizabeth now called him
And he was afraid,
not knowing why,
and angry at himself
for not knowing
he was afraid.
he called, again,
and, then, in the bed-room,
putting on his shorts,
looking for his shirt,
What is it?
And Elizabeth came into the
looking as nice as she always
looked to him,
and looking frightened.
There are some men here
to see you,
from the FBI.
That's what they said.
as he got into his trousers.
She helped him with his shirt.
If that don't beat all!
But, he realized, suddenly,
that Joe and Pam were not talking,
and Elizabeth, abruptly, left him,
and he put on his shoes.
He put on his watch.
It said: eight-thirty.
He was to remember that.
One was standing in the kitchen.
One was standing in the living-room.
The one in the kitchen
stood too close to the children.
He did not like the way
this man looked at his children.
He did not like the way this man
looked at Elizabeth.
He did not like the way the man
in the living room
looked at his books,
holding one in his hands
as though it were reptilian,
putting it down on the table
as though the room were a swamp.
Yet, if he had seen them
on the train to work,
in the streets, in a bar,
he wouldn't have noticed them at all.
They looked perfectly ordinary,
dressed as safely as he was
Anonymous, and, above all,
This was the one in the kitchen.
It was not a question.
It was a statement containing
He felt the blood hit his temples.
He put his hands in his pockets,
What's this about?
But his voice was another man's
He did not recognize his voice.
now, he realized that he had never
heard his voice.
The one in the living-room
picked up another book,
We're asking the questions
Came into the kitchen
and patted little Joe on the head.
Joe jumped up and ran to his
who put one trembling arm around him,
I think I have a right to ask
What are you doing in my house?
What do you want?
They flashed badges.
That don't mean shit
They laughed. Pam began to cry.
Elizabeth went to her,
staring at the men.
Oh yes, it does
the living-room man said,
And you are in it
The kitchen man laughed.
He produced a photograph.
He seemed to take it out of his hat
Though his hat was on the kitchen table.
When did you last see this man
He wanted to say,
I do not know this man
He stared at a photograph of a man
who had been his teacher, once,
a very fine man.
A very fine teacher.
His name was Stone.
I have not seen him in some time
cold, now, and angry in another way,
and too relieved to know what this was
to be, for the moment, anymore.
Then, the living-room man said:
And you signed this?
And took out an old, rolled-up piece of
like a scroll,
and thrust it at him.
Genocide is among the American crimes
and we petition this nation to
He looked at this for a long time.
He remembered signing it: he did not
look for his name.
He ran his hands through his son's
abruptly electric hair,
and stared at the living-room man,
and the kitchen man,
Yes. I signed it. You know that
Why are you here?
The kitchen man said,
Your teacher wrote a book, too, didn't he?
Not a bad book
He was beginning to tremble.
He wanted to laugh.
He felt his son clasp his thigh.
The living-room man said,
Well, he's in jail, your teacher
He was a faggot Commie spy
The kitchen man said,
I bet he made out with you
You, with your cute round ass
Yeah. That's why you signed this
He willed his thigh not to tremble
against his son's head.
Why are you here?
And they said, together,
We got some questions to ask you!
Then. Elizabeth asked,
Are you arresting my husband?
And they said, together,
Yeah. Come on, Buster. Move it
He woke up. The door-bell rang.
What wouldn't I give
to be with you.
Hey. The rags of my life are few.
Abandoned priceless gems are scattered
here and there
I don't know whereâ
never expected to have them,
much less need them,
but, now, an ache, like the beginning
of the rain,
makes me wonder where they are.
If I knew, I would go there,
travelling far and far
and find them
to give them to you.
would be amazed.
I see your amber color raised
and those eyesâ!
brighter than the jewels, far
more amazing than the loot
of my looted life.
There is my pain.
I never thought to think
of it again.
And pain's no gift
it will not lift
you up from the mid-night hour.
Pain cannot be given,
can only be tracked down,
somewhereâsomewhere within that catacomb,
that maze, that dungeon,
which my breath built,
and in which I begin to move,
for something to give to you.
May '86, Amherst
Sitting in the house, with everything on my mind.
Stumbling in my house, watching my lover go stone-blind.
Come back from that window. Please don't open that door!
I know where it leads. It leads to hell, and more
than your blinded eyes can see. Come back,
come back, and try to lean on me.
I'm here, I'm here, I've gone nowhere away:
if only you could see!
How is it we have travelled, you and me,
through happy days, and torment, and not guessed
that we could find ourselves so black, unblessed,
so far apart?
You are my heart:
I watched you sleep and watched you play.
I slapped your buttocks every day.
I used to laugh with you when you laughed
and stand, when you stood up, and, with you,
watched the land drop down beneath us,
green and brown and crooked,
as we rose up, up into a sky
which we alone had found
and where we were alone. Too much alone, perhaps.
Perhaps we were as wicked as people said,
turning to each other for the living bread!
And, now: I have taken your hope away, you say,