Bitter Fruit of the Tree


They said to my grandmother: "Please do not be bitter,"
When they sold her first-born and let the second die,
When they drove her husband till he took to the swamplands,
And brought him home bloody and beaten at last.
They told her, "It is better you should not be bitter,
Some must work and suffer so that we, who must, can live,
Forgiving is noble, you must not be heathen bitter;
These are your orders: you are not to be bitter."
And they left her shack for their porticoed house.

They said to my father: "Please do not be bitter,"
When he ploughed and planted a crop not his,
When he weatherstripped a house that he could not enter,
And stored away a harvest he could not enjoy.
They answered his questions: "It does not concern you,
It is not for you to know, it is past your understanding,
All you need know is: you must not be bitter."
And they laughed on their way to reckon the crop,
And my father walked over the wide garnered acres
Where a cutting wind warned him of the cold to come.

They said to my brother: "Please do not be bitter,
Is it not sad to see the old place go to ruin?
The eaves are sprung and the chimney tower is leaning,
The sills, joists, and columns are rotten in the core;
The blinds hang crazy and the shingles blow away,
The fields have gone back to broomsedge and pine,
And the soil washes down the red gulley scars.
With so much to be done, there's no time for being bitter.
Your father made it for us, it is up to you to save it,
What is past is over, and you should not be bitter."
But my brother is bitter, and he does not hear.


Sterling A. Brown, The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, ed. Michael S. Harper, HarperCollins Publishers, 1980.