Etheridge Knight Is in Love

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Probably my favorite poem from any Black Arts movement writer:


As You Leave Me

Shiny record albums scattered over 
the living room floor, reflecting light 
from the lamp, sharp reflections that hurt 
my eyes as I watch you, squatting among the platters, 
 the beer foam making mustaches on your lips. 

And, too, 
the shadows on your cheeks from your long lashes 
fascinate me--almost as much as the dimples 
in your cheeks, your arms and your legs. 

You hum along with Mathis--how you love Mathis! 
with his burnished hair and quicksilver voice that dances 
among the stars and whirls through canyons 
like windblown snow, sometimes I think that Mathis 
could take you from me if you could be complete 
without me. I glance at my watch. It is now time. 

You rise, 
silently, and to the bedroom and the paint; 
on the lips red, on the eyes black, 
and I lean in the doorway and smoke, and see you 
grow old before my eyes, and smoke, why do you 
chatter while you dress? and smile when you grab 
your large leather purse? don't you know that when you leave me
 I walk to the window and watch you? and light 
a reefer as I watch you? and I die as I watch you 
disappear in the dark streets 
to whistle and smile at the johns

I think that last stanza is killer. The rhythm from the use of "smoke" and then the sudden sadness of "I die as I watch you." I first read this when I was 19. I thought "john" was just slang for "dude." I guess it kinda is.

UPDATE: There's a weird synergy between this and the fact we're talking about Firefly today. I swear it wasn't intentional.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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