Between the World and Me

by Richard Wright

And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly
upon the thing,
Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks
and elms.
And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves
between the world and me. . . .

There was a design of white bones slumbering forgottenly
upon a cushion of ashes.
There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt
finger accusingly at the sky.
There were torn tree limbs, tiny veins of burnt leaves, and a
scorched coil of greasy hemp;
A vacant shoe, an empty tie, a ripped shirt, a lonely hat, and
a pair of trousers stiff with black blood.
And upon the trampled grass were buttons, dead matches,
butt-ends of cigars and cigarettes, peanut shells, a
drained gin flask, and a whore’s lipstick;
Scattered traces of tar, restless arrays of feathers, and the
lingering smell of gasoline.
And through the morning air the sun poured yellow surprise
into the eye sockets of a stony skull. . . .
And while I stood my mind was frozen with a cold pity for
the life that was gone.
The ground gripped my feet and my heart was circled by
icy walls of fear–
The sun died in the sky; a night wind muttered in the grass
and fumbled the leaves in the trees; the woods poured
forth the hungry yelping of hounds; the darkness
screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose
and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves into
my bones.
They grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into my
The gin-flask passed from mouth to mouth; cigars and cigarettes
glowed, the whore smeared the lipstick red
upon her lips,
And a thousand faces swirled around me, clamoring that
my life be burned. . . .

And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth into
my throat till I swallowed my own blood.
My voice was drowned in the roar of their voices, and my
black wet body slipped and rolled in their hands as
they bound me to the sapling.
And my skin clung to the bubbling hot tar, falling from me in
limp patches.
And the down and quills of the white feathers sank into my
raw flesh, and I moaned in my agony.
Then my blood was cooled mercifully, cooled by a baptism
of gasoline.
And in a blaze of red I leaped to the sky as pain rose like
water, boiling my limbs.
Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot
sides of death.
Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in
yellow surprise at the sun. . . .


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