April 3, 2008

Amiri Baraka — “An Agony. As Now”

Posted in Poetry at 9:00 am by The Lizard Queen

An Agony. As Now

I am inside someone
who hates me. I look
out from his eyes. Smell
what fouled tunes come in
to his breath. Love his
wretched women.

Slits in the metal, for sun. Where
my eyes sit turning, at the cool air
the glance of light, or hard flesh
rubbed against me, a woman, a man,
without shadow, or voice, or meaning.

This is the enclosure (flesh,
where innocence is a weapon. An
abstraction. Touch. (Not mine.
Or yours, if you are the soul I had
and abandoned when I was blind and had
my enemies carry me as a dead man
(if he is beautiful, or pitied.

It can be pain. (As now, as all his
flesh hurts me.) It can be that. Or
pain. As when she ran from me into
that forest.
                     Or pain, the mind
silver spiraled whirled against the
sun, higher than even old men thought
God would be. Or pain. And the other. The
yes. (Inside his books, his fingers. They
are withered yellow flowers and were never
beautiful.) The yes. You will, lost soul, say
‘beauty.’ Beauty, practiced, as the tree. The
slow river. A white sun in its wet sentences.

Or, the cold men in their gale. Ecstasy. Flesh
or soul. The yes. (Their robes blown. Their bowls
empty. They chant at my heels, not at yours.) Flesh
or soul, as corrupt. Where the answer moves too quickly.
Where the God is a self, after all.)

Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,
white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.
It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton
you recognize as words or simple feeling.

But it has no feeling. As the metal, is hot, it is not,
given to love.
It burns the thing
inside it. And that thing

–Amiri Baraka, 1964



  1. Sarah said,

    This is like my second favorite Amiri Baraka poem! The first time I met him, he signed my copy of it with “For Sarah, All the world is evil too, Amiri Baraka.” That book is falling apart and remains one of my most prized possessions. In a fire, I’d probably save the kids and that book.

    Thanks for posting it, for putting some brightness into these times.

  2. Alexandra Páez said,

    in strophe VI, the word is ‘self,’ not ‘sef’ (re: God)

  3. Correction made.

  4. melchior said,

    To be honest i donot fully understand the meaning of this poem, but what attracts or pulls me toward it is the brilliant and despairing consistency of its mood and tone. Baraka does a lovely job of conveying the despair and partial insanity of the poet being alienated from himself. ‘I live inside someone/ who hates me.’ I assume that someone as the poet and me as the socially conscious man who believes in revolution.

    The poet seems to see his art as something not simply pretentious and hollow but also cold and indifferent to human social needs or concerns. ‘the cold men in their gale…their bowls/ empty’ seem to represent the human social needs which his poetry could never fulfill.

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