Lamont Steptoe reads Etheridge Knight

 

Etheridge Knight and Lamont Steptoe were good friends. Shortly before he died, Etheridge laid his hands on Lamont, and his last message to him was: “Keep poetry alive!”

When The Painted Bride Quarterly put together an issue dedicated to Etheridge Knight, Lamont contributed. This issue has a poem, “Things Awfully Quiet in America” that is not included in The Essential Etheridge Knight. “It was evidently too radical for the University of Pittsburgh Press,” Lamont says, “and it’s a perfect poem that resonates and prophesies this time.”

On the Vimeo below, Lamont reads “Things Awfully Quiet in America,” four better known poems, “A Poem for Myself,” “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane,” “The Idea of Identity,” “The Sun Came,” and two poems that he wrote and dedicated to his friend as well. Enjoy.

 

 

A Poem for Myself

I was born in Mississippi;
I walked barefooted thru the mud.
Born black in Mississippi,
Walked barefooted thru the mud.
But, when I reached the age of twelve
I left that place for good.
My daddy chopped cotton
And he drank his liquor straight.
Said my daddy chopped cotton
And he drank his liquor straight.
When I left that Sunday morning
He was leaning on the barnyard gate.
Left my mama standing
With the sun shining in her eyes.
Left her standing in the yard
With the sun shining in her eyes.
And I headed North
As straight as the Wild Goose Flies,
I been to Detroit & Chicago
Been to New York city too.
I been to Detroit & Chicago
Been to New York city too.
Said I done strolled all those funky avenues
I’m still the same old black boy with the same old blues.
Going back to Mississippi
This time to stay for good
Going back to Mississippi
This time to stay for good-
Gonna be free in Mississippi
Or dead in the Mississippi mud.

 

Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane

Hard Rock was “known not to take no shit
From nobody,” and he had the scars to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick
Canopy of kinky hair.

The WORD was that Hard Rock wasn’t a mean nigger
Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,
Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity
Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,
Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,
Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.
and we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep,
To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak
Of his exploits: “Man, the last time, it took eight
Screws to put him in the Hole.” “Yeah, remember when he
Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?” “he set
The record for time in the Hole-67 straight days!”
“Ol Hard Rock! man, that’s one crazy nigger.”
And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit
A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came to see if Hard Rock was really tame.
A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch
And didn’t lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock
From before shook him down and barked in his face
And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and look silly.
His empty eyes like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock
Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his name,
we told ourselves that he had just wised up,
Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long.
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.
He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things
We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do.
The fears of years like a biting whip,
Had cut deep bloody grooves
Across our backs.

 

The Idea of Identity

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.I know
their dark eyes, they know mine.I know their style,
they know mine.I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).He’s discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space.My father’s mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody’s birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.There is no
place in her Bible for “whereabouts unknown.”

 

 

 




Also with Lamont Steptoe:

Lamont Steptoe reads from Crowns and Halos

 

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