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October Journey: MARGARET WALKER

Traveller take heed for journeys undertaken in the dark of the year.

Go in the bright blaze of Autumn’s equinox.

Carry protection against ravages of a sun-robber, a vandal, a thief.

Cross no bright expanse of water in the full of the moon.

Choose no dangerous summer nights;

no heavy tempting hours of spring;

October journeys are safest, brightest, and best.

I want to tell you what hills are like in October 

when colors gush down mountainsides

and little streams are freighted with a caravan of leaves,

I want to tell you how they blush and turn in fiery shame and joy,

how their love burns with flames consuming and terrible

until we wake one morning and woods are like a smoldering plain—

a glowing caldron full of jewelled fire;

the emerald Earth a dragon’s eye

the poplars drenched with yellow light

and dogwoods blazing bloody red.

Travelling southward Earth changes from gray rock to green velvet.

Earth changes to red clay

with green grass growing brightly

with saffron skies of evening setting dully

with muddy rivers moving sluggishly.

In the early spring when the peach tree blooms

wearing a veil like a lavender haze

and the pear and plum in their bridal hair

gently snow their petals on Earth’s grassy bosom below

then the soughing breeze is soothing

and the world seems bathed in tenderness,

but in October

blossoms have long since fallen.

A few red apples hang on leafless boughs;

wind whips bushes briskly

And where a blue stream sings cautiously 

a barren land feeds hungrily.

An evil moon bleeds drops of death.

The Earth turns brown.

Grass shrivels and dries to a yellow mass.

Earth wears a dun-colored dress

like an old woman wooing the sun to be her lover,

be her sweetheart and her husband bound in one.

Farmers heap hay in stacks and bind corn in shocks 

against the biting breath of frost. 

The train wheels hum, “I am going home, I am going home.

I am moving toward the South.”

Soon cypress swamps and muskrat marshes

and black fields touched with cotton will appear.

I dream again of my childhood land

of a neighbor’s yard with a redbud tree

the smell of pine for turpentine

an Easter dress, a Christmas eve

and winding roads from the top of a hill.

A music sings within my flesh

I feel the pulse within my throat

my heart fills up with hungry fear

while hills and flatlands stark and staring

before my dark eyes and haunting 

appear and disappear.

Then when I touch this land again

the promise of a sun-lit hour dies.

The greenness of an apple seems

to dry and rot before my eyes.

The sullen winter rains

and tears of grief I cannot shed.

The windless days are static lives.

The clock runs down

timeless and still.

The days and nights turn hours to years

and water in a gutter marks the circle of another world

hating, resentful, and afraid,

stagnant, and green, and full of slimy things.

From Internet Poetry Archive,, sponsored by the University of North Carolina Press and the North Carolina Arts Council.

American poet and author Margaret Abigail Walker (1915-1998) was born in Alabama, America. She taught in the English Department at the Jackson State College from 1949 to her retirement in 1979. In 1968, she founded the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People, which is now called the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center.

The poem October Journey was written in 1973 to highlight the race struggle and the fight for freedom through art – the art of liberation. The poem pays homage to many of Walker’s contemporaries, such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden.

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

MARTINA NICOLLS – MartinaNicollsWebsite

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