Tyehimba Jess on "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
“We Real Cool” is the poem so many of us know from grade school: the Seven (that sacred number of the seeker, the thinker, the mysterious) at the Golden Shovel (the shovel be golden but be ready to dig your grave). Them lounging streetcornerwise in our consciousness under some flickered neon of mannish-boy dream. A Chicago/Detroit/Harlem/St. Louis/L.A./Gary/... corner. Someplace where the rhyme is always as good as the reason, anyplace where the cost of gin is precious enough to thin but solemn enough to pour on the sidewalk for the departed, anyplace where the schools are overcrowded and underfunded and black and brown enough to not really miss the Seven, who were underperforming on the standardized tests and had been diagnosed as ADD or BDD status anyway. Anyplace where sin gets hymned out—straitlaced into storefront chapels on Sunday mornings—but sewn back into Saturday night doo-wopped breakbeats, finger-snapped shuffles of promise.
We know the Seven. Know them like our neighbor’s boy gone bloodied to bullets. Like our cousins nodded off into prison terms or hyped into the ground. Like our brothers gone homeless. Like our fathers gone missing. Like ourselves when we look in the blurry mid-morning mirror. One for every day of the week, one for each of our deadly sins. One waiting around the bend of each American corner. We stand in the June of our lives and try to sing it all the way through each season, always ending each line on the word that brings us together as much as it pivots us into new revelations: We. We. We. We. We. We. We.
Debates & Manifestos
from American Poets