Sterling A. Brown



When Annie Mae Johnson condescends to take the air,
Give up all your business, make haste to get there,
Glory oh glory, get there, be there.

The last time I saw Annie on the avenue,
She held up traffic for an hour or two.
The green light refused, absolutely, to go off at all;
And the red light and the amber nearly popped the glass,
When Annie walked by, they came on so fast,
Then stayed on together twenty minutes after she went past;
And it took three days for to get them duly timed again.
Even so, they palpitated every now and then.

A driver of a coal truck turned his head around,
Watching her walk and knocked an old man down,
Old man's weak eyes had been dazzled by the gorgeous sight;
Po' man collapsed and he heaved a sigh,
Said, “"Lord, I'm willin' at the last to die,
Cause my state is blessed, everything's all right,
Happy, Lord, happy, yes happy am I."

Saw a Rock Creek Bridge car jump off the track,
Do the shim-sham shimmy and come reeling back;
Saw a big steam roller knocked clean off its base,
When it got itself together, the little Austin had its place.

Ambulance came a-clanging, the fire truck banging,
Police patrol a-sailing, the sirens all wailing,
Parked any whichaway and turned their headlights high,
With their engines just a purring, till Annie Mae tipped on by.

Folks gathered from the manors, swarmed in from the alleys,
Deserted their pool-rooms, rushed out of their lodges,
Some took taxis to get them to the place on time;
Way the preachers left their congregations was a holy crime.
Twixt Uncle Ham's sonny boys and Aunt Hagar's daughters
Just like Daddy Moses through the Red Sea Waters,
Annie Johnson made a path, as she laid it on the frazzling line;
The dark waves parted, and then they closed in behind.

Aaanh, Lord, when Annie Mae lays it down,
If you want to take the census proper, better come around.



Sterling A. Brown (1901-1989) was renowned as a teacher, joining the faculty of Howard University in 1929.  He published two volumes of poems: Southern Road (1932), and The Last Ride of Wild Bill (1975).  In addition, he edited landmark anthologies such as The Negro Caravan, and Negro Poetry and Drama, and served as Editor on Negro Affairs for the Federal Writers Project during the Depression.  His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, and honorary degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Howard University, Northwestern University, Williams College, Boston University, Brown University, and Lewis and Clark College.  He served as the first Poet Laureate of Washington, DC.


Published in Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 2006.


To read more about this author:
Sterling Brown A Tribute Written by E. Ethelbert Miller

Credits: Thanks to Northwestern University Press for permission to reprint.