We Real Cool

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Back in the late eighties, when I was a teenager in San Francisco, this poem could be seen on the city’s buses, part of one of those public transport poetry schemes. I read it so many times it became a permanent fixture in my mind, though I hadn’t thought of it for some years until yesterday. A quick internet search discovered the poem and its author, Gwendolyn Brooks, who I was rather pleased to find was both a fine poet and a native of my own home state of Kansas. From the same collection, The Bean Eaters of 1960, comes this eponymous poem:

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

Gwendolyn Brooks 1948, Wayne Miller

Gwendolyn Brooks,  by Wayne Miller, 1948


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