Cover image for Multitudes : poems selected & new
Multitudes : poems selected & new
Weaver, Afaa M. (Afaa Michael), 1951-
First edition.
Publication Information:
Louisville, Ky. : Sarabande Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 137 pages ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3573.E1794 M85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A generous, retrospective edition of this African-American poet.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The poems of this sixth collection vary from near-religious ekphrases on Marc Chagall paintings (from Stations in a Dream) to the poet's not exactly sensitive "Mojo Mamba" ("My johnson got a reputation"). If most of the poems don't reflect such poles of subject matter and dictionAtending much more toward the formerAthe possibility of having them together seems to be the point here. Having put in 15 years of factory work before earning a B.A. and M.F.A., Weaver now holds an endowed chair at Boston's Simmons College. Many of the poems are well-constructed free-verse autobiographies, delving into the speaker's misspent youth, conditions on the steel mill floor, or simply describing "The Poet Reclining" or "Going to Church with C.W." Together, they describe a late '60s-early '70s coming of age and intellectual awakening, one that culminates in a series of "Lamentations" and in the book's final poem, from a section of new work. "Composition for White Critics Who Think African American Poets Cannot Work in Contexts of Pure Concerns for Language," (its full title clocks in at 60 words) is dedicated to Jorie Graham, and attempts to parody the long-lined style and circumlocution of her recent books: "such/ burdens as being less than an adult require the synthesis of forms, this grove of pointed hedges where all time/ changes and gain or you lose or you understand there is no death." While the book as a whole is not quite a successful challenge to the literary powers-that-be, Weaver's stories of hardship and joy ring clear and true. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Weaver (Timber and Prayer) is quite possibly the most highly touted unknown poet working today (witness an introduction by Arnold Rapersad and blurbs from Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez). Five previous volumes of poetry have passed almost in obscurity and are mostly out-of-print. Just as those faithful to his work have witnessed his name change (with earlier books, he was Michael S. Weaver), readers watch as, during the 15 years this volume spans, his acceptance of growing up black in America turns into African American pride. Compare, for example, the early lyric "A Young Aristocracy," (where the poet finally appreciates those fathers who labored 16-hour shifts for "the grand feeling of buying a new row home") with the recent poem, "Enemies," (in which he quotes a co-worker: "Nigger is not really/ a person's color. A nigger cannot be a person." The only place these poems disappoint is in some of his newest work, where the spirit of play overshadows sensitivity. Highly recommended.DRochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Borders I have seen lines on a paper turn four-lane highways to roads snaking through clusters of pine, raise foot-high grass in medians, pull the tongues of people to a drawl, tighten the air and fill it with honey, put the hands of women on their hips, stand them in peanut fields with straw hats, slow the paces of men to a crawl and sit them on the gas pumps of one-room stores, scratch belligerence in the eyes of whites. I have gone South in summer nights, watching the sun rise haughty and oppressive. I have felt God tinker with man's differences, moving through our quartered spaces, making strangers of the same flesh and blood. Water Song In the house that has died, the dead come down wooden stairs at noon, puffing the cotton curtain, a cramped bunch of light pressing down step by step burning, stopping at the dining room, sitting on plastic table covers, circling the window, then they jet through the empty mansion chasing each other, embracing the empty space where Granddaddy's picture was kept until the fall from grace, the deaths in the water, the water of the lake all around the house, holding the life still there at siege, jealous mirrors bobbing on small waves that swallow and fill the lungs with screaming.     No man knows his time, but his time is appointed. The slipshod mules with box heads and flies, collar and reins worn to brown frazzle and fiber, darkened and hardened corn scattered in feed bins, an empty smokehouse with padlock opened and rusted, covered outhouse dumps sinking, the old house flapping its open door back and forth admitting, garden patch aside going broke under weeds and snakes, the back porch where we bathed and pinched the girls, a Victorian mansion of wood and tin and screens, its skin thinning, its bones going hollow and ashen, its mind blossoming out and over the farm, growing. Down the path behind the corncrib there is still the crack of bushes beneath his feet, fallen pine branches snapping under the crush of his hands, the restless moan of the mules bemoaning his call, his call away, the intonation of angels in his ears, coming down to turn the home into an ugly wailing, there is still the flailing of arms in lake water, armies of people in the abandoned home, discarnate.     The dead come back to old folk in the country to talk. An empty swirl of leaves, empty but for the ghosts, has fallen in through the window, swirling on the floor, bronze, yellow-gold, black, crisp as paper, popping up and down on gray, painted floors, the lives take hold and breathe in the decay, travelling down the hallway where Grandma slept, gushed by sudden air into the living room where summer visitors from up north slept and whispered, back into the kitchen against the hard iron legs of the stove, they dance and shout echoes, a shudder in the house and they are gone back, following evening rays back to the sun, sucking back to the moon at night, instant glitter on the roof, then nothing but dull tin and the evening gossip of angels when the lake slaps a wet tongue on muddy banks and steep falls.     In the twinkling of an eye, in the twinkling of an eye. Homemade brooms of straw, bundles wrapped in twine, skirting the wooden floor, scraping the rough finish, hands dipped into white, metal washbasins, cupped in prayer, rubbing against faces grimy with oil, headless chickens tied to upturned poles, flapping their wings in anger, feathers filling the yard, hogs grunting over slop, sleeping in their food, a pair of hands operating the udder of the cow, raw milk spraying against the bucket in squirts, bowl upon bowl of hot vegetables toted to the table, potbellied stove churning an inferno of wood, in the house that has died and is decaying, there is laughter, prayer, singing, cursing, the blare of radios, inordinate snoring from a farmer who sang his own eulogy as he walked to the lake, sirens like Egyptian handmaidens over the deepest move of waves, Canaan in the splashing of catfish, in the house that has died and is decaying, a shell of a place where people no longer live in flesh.     Death holds no fear for folk who are Christians. Grandma sits on the back porch in a metal glider, riding silently back and forth, cobwebs in the corner, her spittoon from a Campbell's soup can by her foot, through the door comes a sucking energy like a giant, empty heart with open arms. She goes again back into the mist of it with all of them, all the blood of the farm that has gone to the water and all the plethora of death, all the endless ways of leaving in the air over the farm, among the million blades of grass pushing up, in the clearings between the pines, a harsh crackle from CB radios, an ambulance starting up from the lake weighed by a sudden journey to Canaan, through and past the lake. The life slips free over the fields.     I will be back in the by and by. Dying ain't forever. In the house that has died, the dead come down wooden stairs at midnight, soft feet like cotton shuffling to the front porch, sitting down to dangle over the edge, examining the picnic table where children ate watermelon. Granddaddy sits in his corner, napping, sleeping in the nest of a big, empty heart, a sucking energy, a song like Egyptian handmaidens over the lake, the dark, moving silence around this world. A Young Aristocracy On their weekends off from the mills, my father and uncles drove their new cars to Turner's Station, the mill smokestacks in the distance, their lungs still feeling the scratch of the soot they took for air-- in three- and two-piece suits with big shoes, their Virginia and Carolina ways in a big city. My mother and her sisters sat on the porches, in white dresses with ankle socks and patent leather like dark images of the Andrews Sisters. Every day on time and some sixteen-hour shifts paid for the cars, the suits, the promises, the grand feeling of buying a new row home. It was the best the world would give then to its best workers, blacks, browns, high-yellows from the South. It took us children thirty years to believe it. Now we are grateful. A Photograph of Negro Mania Sitting on cracked and peeling marble steps, riding in worn-out limousines hanging over the chassis, struggling up city street hills waddling with sweating backs, exposed to overeating and ads and ads and ads, fist-sized hearts imprisoned, sentenced to beating through uncharted miles of untoned and suicidal flesh              whispering, "Lord." Whispering "Lord" over and over, turning fish in pans, beating the rising dough, filling pie shells, feeding starving masses flashing through alleys past richochets of bullets, standing on swollen ankles, radios crackling              with morning spirituals. Stages with mohair suits and precision dancing, artistic genius with classic starvation setting jazz to geometric progression, sages in African zoot suits with saxophones, the lead given to bass players when the leader falls in a pool of sweat, vibraphones beat with blinding flurries of minute and hairy tongs, the songs, the greatest              burp of childlike people. On trains with cardboard suitcases filled with fried chicken, potato salads making greasy eyes on the sides, peeping Southern eyes on the passengers, the North whipping past the windows in a blur of trees, coming in 1902, 1943, 1960 and before there was ever a clock or civil rights worker to count them, coming in pre-Columbian trinkets to lie in Cuba in shallow graves and the bottomless hells              of the Smithsonian and cultural indignance. Thirty million of them whooping and dancing on the head of a pin, under the eye of Jesus, their preachers the epitome of Saturday night conmanship, their mahogany elegance a tune in four-four, the haphazard zazen of classical Bach and heathen jungle drums              suddenly becoming percussion. Unashamed, unashamed, unfree and brought up right, respecting the smooth glow of moonshine and stars, the striking stink of rubbing alcohol cooling their grandmother's heels in her winters, the Beatitudes and poison ivy in vacations in the hell of the South. Sitting quietly, still as pre-storm summer air, taking Kool-Aid popsicles, frozen custard, melted Hershey's, turning fried eggs in grease of old bacon, frying cornbread, bending our skin-shiny heads saying evening politely to the age              and darkening white shadows. Up the one-lane highways through the Carolinas and Virginia, bouncing on shifting droplids of Chevrolet pickups, turning paper fans for four hours on Sundays, eyes peeled back at the boredom, occasional possessions doing foot stomps in the aisle, the Holy Ghost descending on a church where bootleggers sell in the woods, where wet mouths chew gum and love notes,              up through gates to heaven's where. In another spring, renewed, full of insight, humbled, blackness is something revered falling on unwilling hearts like the veil of night--this misery, these smiles unsummoned in the alleys, rusted Cadillacs, fish frys, church dinners, dark bars, shooting dice and drinking wine, dying, falling out,              making a grand appeal to life. To the Vietnam Vet It must have been like a funhouse, walking the high cliffs under rock apes, dodging the large stones they tossed down, lifting the black death to shoo them, when the women were as cheap as cigarettes, dutiful, lasting as long as the dollars. In the jungle night must have felt like the plumage of a giant peacock around you, a billion eyes still as pursed lips on your arms. I remember this when I approach your house on foot, peeking under cedar bushes for feet other than the slanting trunk, taking cover under the first lamplight. When you peek from your window smeared with paint, I know it is you and not the black patriot sleeping in shit with dead men, remembering Martha & The Vandellas, afraid to call out to soldiers who declared it was not your war. Strange thing when they fire vets from jobs because they remember, because they stand still for a moment like sailors tied to a mast, weathering the storm of phantoms. Stranger still that I must write a hundred songs for your unpainted army because I want you all to believe I understand. South African Communion It is not difficult to feel compassion for the workers in South Africa that stand in half-mile lines waiting to board buses, down the dirt roads of shanty towns to mines and auto factories, the hats with headlights passing ore up to the bosses, tight-lipped and fervently religious with their usurpation of God. At night in South Baltimore we take excursions from company property to the bars downstreet, the convenience stores in the heart of white condolences. The faces we meet, the blank smiles, the beckoning fists, the yells are grandchildren of laws that did not allow blacks to set dusty foot on white pavement past nightfall, did not allow excursions, the woolly growths to be called afros, or brown fingers grasping books-- nothing pretentious and black but the night itself. It is not difficult to understand greed here where freedom has been harvested, cut and laid aside to die, when a whole other paradise was carved from theft. The whole arrangement comes clear. It's the times I look down and see the dark brown, veiny hands beneath white frowns, or the scowering shadows of neon lights from 7-11's and police sirens, when a waitress would rather not touch my hands with the change, when a cop calls me boy when I'm thirty, when people force laughter over clenched knives. It's just a joke and not very difficult to feel compassion for the workers in South Africa standing mute in predawn, hustling to houses of relatives and friends at night with passes underlined with photos, tossing stones at personnel carriers. It's easy travelling the streets of Baltimore, searching the shadows for psychotic cops, clutching the passport licenses to drive and be seen, against the impregnable shadows of the moon over              the hatred. A Life in a Steel Mill My father is proud of his life making pipes, his small row home, his five children, his peace, two week vacations he took in summertime, hauling us in his '54 Ford to Lawrenceville, his wife throwing her arm around him. He likes to think he was able to pay for good times, crab feasts in public parks, Saturday drinks with my uncles while his wife cooked hot soup. He is as steady as a mountain at rest, in movement he has the force of an inland river. He believes in the Resurrection and good bourbon. He is grateful for the life work has afforded. My father is a burning sun, an oracle of flesh, the damp crush of morning dew on naked feet, a crack and screech of wooden wagons in tobacco, a host of empty echoes like thunder in caverns of steel mills, the clatter of his buddies at a roadside bar coming in town from work. My father is a son of the ten thousand things. My father is hickory, tears I have never seen come through buds in springtime to become leaves. My mother in her death is the wind and rain. Copyright (c) 2000 Afaa Michael Weaver. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xiii
Water Song
Bordersp. 3
Water Songp. 4
A Young Aristocracyp. 8
A Photograph of Negro Maniap. 9
To the Vietnam Vetp. 11
South African Communionp. 12
A Life in a Steel Millp. 14
My Father's Geography
Egop. 17
Beginningsp. 18
An Improbable Meccap. 19
Back from the Arms of Big Mamap. 22
The Madman Raises the Deadp. 25
Meditation for My Sonp. 26
New Englandp. 27
My Father's Geographyp. 38
Homecomingp. 39
Luxembourg Gardenp. 41
Stations in a Dream
The Poet Recliningp. 45
Self-Portraitp. 46
The Tree of Lifep. 47
The Birthdayp. 48
Lovers with Flowersp. 49
Solitudep. 50
Adam and Evep. 51
Bathshebap. 52
Davidp. 53
The Praying Jewp. 54
Timber and Prayer
A Maximp. 57
The Final Trains of Augustp. 59
Mass Transitp. 63
Going to Church with C.W.p. 66
My Son Flies to Visit Me in Providencep. 68
Tuna Fishp. 70
Sub Shop Girlp. 72
Bootleg Whiskey for Twenty-five Centsp. 74
The Robep. 77
Michelep. 78
Humilityp. 79
Writing Numbersp. 81
Mt. Zion Baptistp. 82
Mama's Hoodlump. 84
Sin, 1969p. 86
The Incomplete Heartp. 87
Friendship, 1994p. 89
House Trainingp. 91
New Poems
The Black and White Galaxiep. 95
Inside the Blues Whalep. 97
Abikup. 99
Kingsp. 100
Lamentations #1p. 101
Lamentations #2p. 102
Lamentations #3p. 103
Lamentations #4p. 104
Lamentations #5p. 105
Radio Daysp. 106
The Poetsp. 107
African Jump Ballp. 109
Eighteenp. 110
Enemiesp. 112
Mojo Mambap. 114
Piggly Wigglyp. 117
Chimes Cafep. 119
Walnut Cinemap. 121
Sam'sp. 122
Sango's Marriage Songp. 124
I Am Bornp. 127
The Last Jazz Clubp. 129
Composition for White Criticsp. 133
The Authorp. 137