“The Singing”

C. K. Williams

Selected by Patrice Nganang

My answer is very simple, fast and speedy—C. K. Williams, “The Singing.”

The best poem I ever read. It truly always zooms through my mind, and I see him—Big.

—Patrice Nganang

The Singing

I was walking home down a hill near our house on a balmy afternoon
       under the blossoms
Of the pear trees that go flamboyantly mad here every spring with
       their burgeoning forth

When a young man turned in from a corner singing no it was more of
       a cadenced shouting
Most of which I couldn’t catch I thought because the young man was
       black speaking black

It didn’t matter I could tell he was making his song up which pleased
       me he was nice-looking
Husky dressed in some style of big pants obviously full of himself
       hence his lyrical flowing over

We went along in the same direction then he noticed me there almost
       beside him and “Big”
He shouted-sang “Big” and I thought how droll to have my height
       incorporated in his song

So I smiled but the face of the young man showed nothing he looked
       in fact pointedly away
And his song changed “I’m not a nice person” he chanted “I’m not
       I’m not a nice person”

No menace was meant I gathered no particular threat but he did want
       to be certain I knew
That if my smile implied I conceived of anything like concord
       between us I should forget it

That’s all nothing else happened his song became indecipherable to
       me again he arrived
Where he was going a house where a girl in braids waited for him on
       the porch that was all

No one saw no one heard all the unasked and unanswered questions
       were left where they were
It occurred to me to sing back “I’m not a nice person either” but I
       couldn’t come up with a tune

Besides I wouldn’t have meant it nor he have believed it both of us
       knew just where we were
In the duet we composed the equation we made the conventions to
       which we were condemned

Sometimes it feels even when no one is there that someone something
       is watching and listening
Someone to rectify redo remake this time again though no one saw nor
       heard no one was there

C.K. Williams - The Singing

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C. K. Williams was born in Newark in 1936. He won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Repair. Some other titles include Tar, The Vigil, and Flesh and Blood. He teaches at Princeton.

Patrice Nganang was born in Cameroon and is a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. His novel Temps de chien received the Prix Littéraire Marguerite Yourcenar and the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire. He is also the author of La Joie de vivre and L’Invention d’un beau regard. His novel, Mount Pleasant, was published by FSG this year. He teaches comparative literature at Stony Brook University.

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