The Ballad of Rudolph Reed

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Rudolph Reed was oaken.

His wife was oaken too.

And his two good girls and his good little man

Oakened as they grew.

‘I am not hungry for berries.

I am not hungry for bread.

But hungry, hungry for a house

Where at night a man in bed

‘May never hear the plaster

Stir as if in pain.

May never hear the roaches

Falling like fat rain.

‘Where never wife and children need

Go blinking through the gloom.

Where every room of many rooms

Will be full of room.

‘Oh my home may have its east or west

Or north or south behind it.

All I know is I shall know it,

And fight for it when I find it.’

It was in a street of bitter white

That he made his application.

For Rudolph Reed was oakener

Than others in the nation.

The agent’s steep and steady stare

Corroded to a grin.

Why, you black old, tough old, hell of a man,

Move your family in!

Nary a grin grinned Rudolph Reed,

Nary a curse cursed he,

But moved in his House. With his dark little wife,

And his dark little children three.

A neighbor would look, with a yawning eye

That squeezed into a slit.

But the Rudolph Reeds and the children three

Were too joyous to notice it.

For were they not firm in a home of their own

With windows everywhere

And a beautiful banistered stair

And a front yard for flowers and a back yard for grass?

The first night, a rock, as big as two fists

The second, a rock big as three,

But nary a curse cursed Rudolph Reed.

(Though oaken as man can be.)

The third night, a ring of silvery glass.

Patience ached to endure.

But he looked, and lo! small Mabel’s blood

Was staining her gaze so pure.

Then up did rise our Rudolph Reed

And pressed the hand of his wife,

And went to the door with a thirty-four

And a beastly butcher knife.

He ran like a mad thing into the night,

And the words in his mouth were stinking.

By the time he had hurt his first white man

He was no longer thinking.

By the time he had his fourth white man

Rudolph Reed was dead

His neighbors gathered and kicked his corpse.

“Nigger –” his neighbors said.

Small Mabel whimpered all night long,

For calling herself the cause

Her oak-eyed mother did no thing

But change the bloody gauze.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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