I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Langston Hughes, “The Negro speaks of Rivers” (1922)
I have grown old on this plantation
With my children in the cotton fields.
The snow has taken my heart
And the summer has taken my fear.
My old bones are creaking lovely
For the day I thought I was born
I would be a free black bird
But I am trapped, tortured, and forlorn.
But over the white fence, I see the river.
I see the river and it calms me so.
I have seen you birth babes.
Babes, so dark, so young,
Who know nothing but the sun on their back
And a whip at their hides
And the master at their tongues.
Have you seen my Grandmother?
My Grandmother has seen the rivers.
She’s run on the African soil.
She’s fed the babes of the world.
She’s grown her hair long
To wade in the river.
I have seen you run through the field.
Running from your Mother,
Running from your Grandmother,
Running from the master’s whip
And straight into the river.
You’ve become one with the river
And it calms me so.