Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Winter in St. Antoine by James McCall
Whiten and glaze the drab old street
And make the snow-clad houses gleam
Like crystal castles in a dream.
There, many swarthy people dwell;
To some, 'tis heaven, to others, hell!
To me the street seems like a movie stage
Where Negro play and stars engage.
They laugh and love and dance and sing
While waiting the return of spring.
Some drown their heart-aches deep
In winter time on St. Antoine.
There, on the gutters frozen brink
A dope-fiend lies, with eyes that blink
And from a neighboring cabaret
come sounds of song and music gay.
At windows, tapping, here and there,
Sit dusky maidens young and fair,
With painted cheeks and brazen eyes.
and silk clad legs crossed to the thigh
Upon the icy pavements wide,
Gay brown-faced children laugh and slide
While tawny men in shiny cars
Drive up and down the street like czars.
Into a church across the way
There goes a bridal party gay.
While down the street like a prairie-fire,
Dash a bandit car and a cruising flyer.
Around the corner whirls a truck,
An old coal-peddler's horse is struck;
The horse falls on the frozen ground,
The dark blood spouting from its wound.
A motley crowd runs to the scene;
A woman old, from shoulders lean,
Unwraps a quilt her hands have pieced
And spreads it o'er the shivering beast.
Among the swarthy folk who pass
Among the slippery street of glass,
Are some in furs and some in rags;
Lovely women, wretched hags,
White-haired migrants from the South;
Some wrapped in blankets, pipes in mouth;
Some smile while others seem to shiver,
As though they long for Swanee River;
But though they dream with tear wet eyes
Of cotton-fields and sunny skies.
They much prefer the heaven and hell
On St Antoine, where free men dwell.
James McCall was my grandmother Fannie Turner Graham's first cousin. He was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1880. He lost his sight as a result of an illness while attending Howard University where he was studying medicine. After going blind he wrote poetry. He and his family moved to Detroit in the 1920's where he published several newspapers, including the Detroit Tribune. He died in 1963. Several branches of my Montgomery family moved to Detroit, including mine. I remember the area he writes about but years later. Now, it's all been torn down. I tried to find some photographs of St. Antoine, but to no avail. This is an offering for West in New England's Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge.
To read more about James McCall read Poems by James E. McCall, James Edward McCall - Poet and Publisher and She Was Owned Before the War by the Late Colonel...