I have seen you suffer in the midst of winters,
and your shadow erect amidst the street lamps
has told me often of its hunger at the doors
of the eating houses.
I have seen you bleed at times on the sidewalks,
and I have not heard your agony make complaint.
I have seen you adorned in the springtime,
bedecked in laughter and joy,
dressed in sunshine and silk,
singing and dancing, singing strange songs,
the heavy songs of sirens,
of calls and of silence on forgotten seas,
of bitter songs, ending with outbursts of laughter
like mighty cymbals.
I have seen you dancing in whirlwinds
like the frenzied,
celebrating some god hidden in the depths of you.
Where, O Harlem, do you sleep?
Perhaps you pluck the leaves of the last star
in your fragile cup
and find again at the portals of the dawn
the hour which sounds like a knell
and your heart, weary and alone
on the road, hostile and black.
Image: Bernie Robynson, “In the Heart of Harlem,” Cartoon map (1953) [Inscription reads “For Carlo – from Langston, Harlem Oct. 8, 1953.” Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Bieneke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.