“Harlem” Hughes & Woodson

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Artist: G. Byron Peck | 2007 | Shaw Community Mural feat. Langston Hughes & Carter Woodson | Washington, DC

On A Classroom Discussion of Langston Hughes’s “Harlem”  |  “Or does it explode?”

A poem by Joseph Ross, 2016
dedicated to Drew

Reprinted with permission from the author.

We held Hughes’ question in our hands
with the danger it deserved.

Then talked our way through the brown
sweet of a raisin, the yellow

disgust of a moist wound.
We held our noses to guard

against the assault of decomposition,
the stench of failed flesh turned

the color of no.
We nearly smiled at the morning

pastry, the candied version
of our country’s sin.

We wondered about the dead
weight, the way it lies and drags

down every hopeful shoulder.
But when faced with the threat

in this final question, you see
it for the terror it is.

Read the original poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes on the Poetry Foundation website.

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry: Ache (forthcoming 2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. and writes regularly at www.JosephRoss.net. Follow on twitter @JosephRoss27.