Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DEAR OLD DICK, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DEAR OLD DICK, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Said dear old dick
Last Line: "to wait on st. Peter world without end."
Subject(s): African Americans; Racism; Waiters & Waitresses; Negroes; American Blacks; Racial Prejudice; Bigotry


Said dear old Dick
To the colored waiter:
"Here, George! be quick
Roast beef and a potato.
I'm due at the courthouse at half-past one,
You black old scoundrel, get a move on you!
I want a pot of coffee and a graham bun.
This vinegar decanter'll make a groove on you,
You black-faced mandril, you grinning baboon --"
"Yas sah! Yas sah," answered the coon.
"Now don't you talk back," said dear old Dick,
"Go and get my dinner or I'll show you a trick
With a plate, a tumbler or a silver castor,
Fuliginous monkey, sired by old Nick."
And the nigger all the time was moving round the table,
Rattling the silver things faster and faster --
"Yes sah! Yas sah, soon as I'se able
I'll bring yo' dinnah as shore as yo's bawn."
"Quit talking about it; hurry and be gone,
You low-down nigger," said dear old Dick.

Then I said to my friend: "Suppose he'd up and stick
A knife in your side for raggin' him so hard;
Or how would you relish some spit in your broth?
Or a little Paris green in your cheese for chard?
Or something in your coffee to make your stomach froth?
Or a bit of asafoetida hidden in your pie?
That's a gentlemanly nigger or he'd black your eye."

Then dear old Dick made this long reply:
"You know, I love a nigger,
And I love this nigger.
I met him first on the train from California
Out of Kansas City; in the morning early
I walked through the diner, feeling upset
For a cup of coffee, looking rather surly.
And there sat this nigger by a table all dressed,
Waiting for the time to serve the omelet,
Buttered toast and coffee to the passengers.
And this is what he said in a fine southern way:
'Good mawnin,' sah, I hopes yo' had yo' rest,
I'm glad to see you on dis sunny day.'
Now think! here's a human who has no other cares
Except to please the white man, serve him when he's starving,
And who has as much fun when he sees you carving
The sirloin as you do, does this black man.
Just think for a minute, how the negroes excel,
Can you beat them with a banjo or a broiling pan?
There's music in their soul as original
As any breed of people in the whole wide earth;
They're elemental hope, heartiness, mirth.
There are only two things real American:
One is Christian Science, the other is the nigger.
Think it over for yourself and see if you can figure
Anything beside that is not imitation
Of something in Europe in this hybrid nation.
Return to this globe five hundred years hence --
You'll see how the fundamental color of the coon
In art, in music, has altered our tune;
We are destined to bow to their influence;
There's a whole cult of music in Dixie alone,
And that is America put into tone."

And dear old Dick gathered speed and said:
"Sometimes through Dvorak a vision arises
To the words of Merneptah whose hands were red:
'I shall live, I shall live, I shall grow, I shall grow,
I shall wake up in peace, I shall thrill with the glow
Of the life of Temu, the god who prizes
Favorite souls and the souls of kings.'
Now these are the words, and here is the dream,
No wonder you think I am seeing things:
The desert of Egypt shimmers in the gleam
Of the noonday sun on my dazzled sight.
And a giant negro as black as night
Is walking by a camel in a caravan.
His great back glistens with the streaming sweat.

The camel is ridden by a light-faced man,
A Greek perhaps, or Arabian.
And this giant negro is rhythmically swaying
With the rhythm of the camel's neck up and down.
He seems to be singing, rollicking, playing;
His ivory teeth are glistening, the Greek is listening
To the negro keeping time like a tabouret.
And what cares he for Memphis town,
Merneptah the bloody, or Books of the Dead,
Pyramids, philosophies of madness or dread?
A tune is in his heart, a reality:
The camel, the desert are things that be,
He's a negro slave, but his heart is free."

Just then the colored waiter brought in the dinner.
"Get a hustle on you, you miserable sinner,"
Said dear old Dick to the colored waiter.
"Heah's a nice piece of beef and a great big potato.
I hopes yo'll enjoy 'em sah, yas I do;
Heah's black mustahd greens, 'specially for yo',
And a fine piece of jowl that I swiped and took
From a dish set by, by the git-away cook.
I hope yo'll enjoy 'em, sah, yas I do."
"Well, George," Dick said, "if Gabriel blew
His horn this minute, you'd up and ascend
To wait on St. Peter world without end."





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