From the Archive: Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Eve L. Ewing





The Train Speaks

…the presence of Negroes in large numbers in our great cities is not a menace in itself. (The Negro in Chicago, xiii)

Even now, I dream of them, all my babies.
Quiet nights in the railyard,
When the little feet skitter beneath me,
When the last of the strong men with his
gleaming silver buttons has locked the door
and laid his hands against me,
warm palms offering a silent farewell,
I see them dancing in every passing cloud.

My babies, my babies. Born unto me
in the hills and green lands, loose threads
catching in my sharp parts when they don’t watch out,
blistered hands hauling parcels of burlap
as hefty and shapeless as bound cotton.
They move like rabbits, then. They look
for a lash that isn’t there, even them that never felt it.
It’s in their shoulders.
The lash lives in their shoulders.

Long after the last biscuit is gone,
when the sunrise brings steel mountains,
my children look and look through the space
I have made for them, the gift I prepared.
They are safe within but can see without.
They feel it before they know the words,
then smile when it comes to them— it’s flat.
The land is flat. And they smile to think of it,
this new place, the uncle or cousin who will
greet them, the hat they will buy, the ribbons.
They know not the cold, my babies.
They know not the men who are waiting
and angry. They know not that the absence
of signs does not portend the absence of danger.
My innocent children. My precious ones.
I can never take you home. You have none. But oh,
if I could keep you here, safe in my iron heart,
I would never let you go out into the wind.


Countless Schemes

Countless schemes have been proposed for solving or dismissing this problem, most of them impracticable or impossible. Of this class are such proposals as: (1) the deportation of 12,000,000 Negroes to Africa; (2) the establishment of a separate Negro state in the United States; (3) complete separation and segregation from the whites and the establishment of a caste system or peasant class; and (4) hope for a solution through the dying out of the Negro race. (The Negro in Chicago, xxiii)

you don’t have enough boats

we came here head to toe
spoiling like old meat
in every liquid thing a body can make
the bravest gone to Yemaya
and now we are millions
and now we demand to sit upright

and so you don’t have enough boats

you would give us the most wretched desert,
not the desert of our fathers where god is watching
and manna comes down like the snow.
you would give us a desert of sorrows and nothing.
you would give us the dream
where you want only to yell and no noise comes
you would give us all that is barren
you would give our children sand to eat

we been had that

you said
hope for a solution through the dying out of the Negro race
hope for a solution through the dying out of the Negro
hope for a solution through the dying out

you said hope for the Negro dying
hope through the dying
hope for the dying out
the solution dying

you said dying. the Negro
the Negro dying
the Negro hope
hope the Negro

you said hope for dying
hope dying

you said hope


upon seeing a picture of a car in a school book

Automobile raids were added to the rioting Monday night. Cars from which rifle and revolver shots were fired were driven at great speed through sections inhabited by Negroes. Negroes defended themselves by “sniping” and volley-firing from ambush and barricade. So great was the fear of these raiding parties that the Negroes distrusted all motor vehicles. (The Negro in Chicago, 6)

one hundred years ago, before the Burning Days,
they rode in metal carriages, grandma says.
rich people did. big iron capsules on fat rubber wheels.
like a buggy, but with no horses. no one to talk to
or feed. I asked her “well what is a driver if no living being
is the one driven? well what is a tire if no one has to
breathe to make it work?” and she laughs right at me.
the autos took their roar from a vapor, drawn from the ground.
an ancient something. something that could run out.
I asked her “well what does it mean to move on earth
through the will of something with no heart inside?
well what would you do if you had more than four friends?”
they gave up the heavy vessels when we built our city.
we live as we should, now, moving in good things that let us
touch the ground and feel the shape of the earth.
bicycles and wheelchairs. ponies and rollerskates.
when I greet my Lavender with her water and hay, I say,
“good morning, and who could ever want you to be anything
but just as you are? just as god made you— on your own feet?”
and she says the same back to me.


Photo of Eve L. Ewing by Daniel Barlow.

Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago. She is the author of Electric Arches (Haymarket Books, 2017) and Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side (University of Chicago Press, fall 2018) and the co-author, with Nate Marshall, of the performance No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She is a scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times, Poetry, and many other venues. More from this author →