“Crossing”

By Sterling Brown

This is not Jordan River
There lies not Canaan
There is still
One more wide river to cross.

This is the Mississippi
And the stars tell us only
That this is not the road.

We do not know
If any have reached that Canaan
We have received no word.

Behind us the belling pack
Beyond them the hunters
Before us the dismal swamp.

We do not know. . . .

We have exchanged Louisiana for Mississippi
Merely
Georgia for Florida
Carolina for Tennessee.

We have passed, repassed
So many rivers
Okmulgee, Chattahoochee,
St. Mary’s, Mississippi,
Alabama, Tennessee,
Mississippi.
We have leapt
From swamp land
Into marshes
We have won through
To bloodred clay
To gravel and rock
To the baked lands
To the scorched barrens.

And we grow footsore
And muscle weary
Our faces grow sullen
And our hearts numb

We do not know. . . .

We know only
That there lies not Canaan
That this is no River Jordan.

Still are we motherless children
Still are we dragging travelers
Alone, and a long ways from home.

Still with the hard earth for our folding bed
Still with our head pillowed upon a rock

And still
With one more river,
Oh, one wide river to cross.

BROWN.inddSTERLING A. BROWN (1901–1989) was one of the most important and influential figures in the development of African American literature and criticism in the twentieth century. Born in Washington, D.C., he was not only a poet but also a distinguished folklorist, anthologist, critic, and reviewer. Brown was a professor at Howard University for forty years.

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown; edited by Michael S. Harper, foreword by Cornelius Eady. Copyright © 1980 by Sterling A. Brown. Published 1989 by TriQuarterly Books/Another Chicago Press by arrangement with Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. This edition published 2020 by arrangement with the John L. Dennis Revocable Trust.

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