When I’m feeling down the poetry of Langston Hughes and Armstrong’s music pulls me back up. The poetry reminds me I have wonderfully strong ancestors I never met. Armstrong’s music is like a hug full of joy saying, “Life is good, don’t give up. I’m gonna play this song ’cause you’re alright.”
All Poetry by Langston Hughes
“Life Is Fine”
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love–
But for livin’ I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry–
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
I don’t have to work.
I don’t have to do nothing
but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
This little old furnished room’s
so small I can’t whip a cat
without getting fur in my mouth
and my landlady’s so old
her features is all run together
and God knows she sure can overcharge -
Which is why I reckon I does
have to work after all.
Time I pay rent and get my food
and laundry I don’t have much left
but here is five dollars for you
to show you I still appreciates you.
My girl-friend send her love and say
she hopes to lay eyes on you sometime in life.
Mama, it has been raining cats and dogs up
here. Well, that is all so I will close.
Your son baby
Respectably as ever,
“The Weary Blues”
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Coming from a black man’s soul.
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
Ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
Poems for Children
My daddy rides me piggy-back
Ma mama rides me, too.
But grandma says her poor old back
Has had enough to do.
The pictures on the television
Do not make me dream as well
As the stories without pictures
Grandpa knows how to tell
Even if he does not know
What makes a Spaceman go,
Grandpa says back in his time
Hamburgers only cost a dime,
Ice cream cones a nickel,
And a penny for a pickle.