May 25, 2013

That James Baldwin Smile




In the spring of 1986 I went to the Library of Congress for a reading by James Baldwin. After the reading and discussion, all of us admirers crowded the table where he sat, tired but patient and good natured.
     As I inched closer to the table, a space opened between some of the hips, backs, and arms in front of me. In that space, James Baldwin and I caught each other's eyes. He smiled THAT smile, just a warm "Hello, there" kind of thing. 
     Is he looking at me? Oh, God, he is! Smile back! I already was, and he caught it. Then the space was filled again. 
     When I finally got up to the table, I was too awed to say anything but "Hi!" I was grinning and on the brink of gushing. 
     I didn't have my book with me, for some reason that I can't remember. I would have had him sign The Fire Next Time. I had a small stack of note paper with me. He signed: "For Avis, Peace, James Baldwin." I thanked him and hesitated, really wanting to say something else.
     But I didn't. I was sure I'd gush, maybe make no sense at all. And he was tired and people were waiting. Okay, just go. That's enough. James Baldwin likes youuu! 

 The wonderful Audra McDonald sings the Baldwin poem "Some Days"  (music by Steve Marzulo) on her new CD and in her new PBS concert "Go Back Home." 
 
Some Days (For Paula)
by James Baldwin

1.
Some days worry
some days glad
some days
more than make you
mad.
Some days,
some days, more than
shine:
when you see what’s coming
on down the line!

2.
Some days you say,
oh, not me never ⎯ !
Some days you say
bless God forever.
Some days, you say,
curse God, and die
and the day comes when you wrestle
with that lie.
Some days tussle
then some days groan
and some days
don’t even leave a bone.
Some days you hassle
all alone.

3.
I don’t know, sister,
what I’m saying,
nor do no man,
if he don’t be praying.
I know that love is the only answer
and the tight-rope lover
the only dancer.
When the lover come off the rope
today,
the net which holds him
is how we pray,
and not to God’s unknown,
but to each other ⎯ :
the falling mortal is our brother!

4.
Some days leave
some days grieve
some days you almost don’t believe.
Some days believe you
and you won’t.
Some days worry
some days mad
some days more than make you glad.
Some days, some days,
more than shine,
witnesses,
coming on down the line!
©1983, 1985 James Baldwin
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