I hesitated on this one because of the “n” word, but the poem deserves to be better known for its powerful and still revelant depiction of racism’s pain. Countee Cullen, born perhaps in Lexington, Kentucky, and a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, published it in 1925. Note how Cullen’s uses a nursery rhyme meter and then in the last line of the second verse, in order to emphasize what’s coming, breaks the rhythm like a man stumbling.
– Countee Cullen
(For Eric Walrond)
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.