Hat Dancer Blue by Earl S. Braggs


Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (1992)

Hat Dancer Blue isn't a conventional title for a book of poetry, and neither are the poems. The writing is musical and rough, not by turns but constantly both. They breathe subject matter born of realism and an ear for stories. Here's a strong, young, black voice that applies imagination to social detail and can speak for and through others. When the external world of poetry is as richly textured and as urgent as it is for this writer, form comes from the outside in. These poems blossom out of context. Strong stuff that matters. Not the usual thing. -- Marvin Bell




One in One Thousand Paper People

The dirty brown bag man stands on the same corner
every morning greeting the black coffee crowd
rushing to meet the workday morning madness at the office.
He doesn't remember his real name so he doesn't answer
to any name that doesn't clink the bottom of the tin can
he carries around like an old lady's purse.

The light changes and I walk even though the sign says don't
walk past this man without feeling his pain enough to flip
a quarter to the can which he catches with his hard hand.
In a conversation that we never had he tells me
he was a dirt soldier in a war that never was declared,
a war where the enemy and the ally were the same man.
"That kind of shit makes you a little crazy," his eyes say.

Today is too cold to think so he drinks anything he can find
while he leans his fragile life against "The Wall" that forgot
to carve his name in so now he is sitting there loaded
like the M-16 he barely remembers carrying
into the jungle never knowing who the enemy is so he shoots
everybody within shouting distance

with his pool water-blue bullet-sharp eyes
that dart back and forth like a target too quick to hit
dead center. Time after time I walk past this man
wearing my Wall Street gray flannel suit wondering

if anyone in this crowd remembers Kent State or Huey P.
Newton's law of this never never never land of lies.
I really don't know what good I can do for a quarter tossed
to a begging man who only asks the world
for a cup of black morning coffee, sugar forgone.

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