Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man

(after Wallace Stevens’ "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird")



Along Twentieth, crossing Olney,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of a black man.


My mind was in three places,
Like a white person on a subway car
On which there are three black men.


The black man hunched through Center City crowds.
He was the necessary extra in our pantomime.


A white man and a white woman
Are two.
A white man and a white woman and a black man
Are two.


I do not know which to prefer,
The effort to encounter
Or the bliss of denial,
The black man speaking
Or just after, when I go home again.


Bars striped the long community gates
With barbaric ink.
The shadow of the black man
Crossed them, to and fro.
Our decisions
Etched automatically in the shadow
Probable cause.


O thin souls of Philadelphia,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Can you not see how the black man
Walks around the feet
Of the city about you?


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the black man is involved
In what I know.


When the black man turned the corner,
He marked the end
Of one of our many circles.


At the sight of black children
Walking against sunlight
Even the whores of euphony
Would cry out sharply.


He rode through North Philadelphia
In a glass SUV.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his effects
For black men.


The Schuylkill is moving.
The black man must be drowning.


It was evening all the way through this moment.
It was raining
And it was going to rain.
The black man sat
In the limbs of Cedar Street.