Ten African-American poets contributed to the Migration Series Poetry Suite created in celebration of the Jacob Lawrence exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The works of a few of them are below. Enjoy.


And the migrants kept coming
—Jacob Lawrence

Was walking. Was
walking & then waiting
for a train, the 12:40
to take us thataway.
(I got there early.)
Wasn’t a train
exactly but a chariot
or the Crescent Limited come
to carry me some
home I didn’t yet
know. There were those
of us not ready till good
Jim swung from a tree
& the white folks crowded
the souvenir photo’s frame—
let his body blacken,
the extremities
shorn—not shed,
but skimmed off
so close it can be shaving
almost. An ear
in a pocket, on a shelf,
a warning where a book
could go. So
I got there early.
See now, it was morning
a cold snap, first frost
which comes even
here & kill the worms
out the deer. You can
hunt him then
but we never did want,
after, no trophy
crowned down
from a wall, watching—
just a meal, what
we might make last
till spring. There are ways
of keeping a thing.
Then there are ways
of leaving, & also
the one way. That
we didn’t want.
I got there early.
Luggage less sturdy
(cardboard, striped, black)
than my hat. Shoebox
of what I shan’t say
lunch on my lap.
The noise the rails made
even before the train.
A giant stomach growling.
A bowed belly. I did
not pray. I got there
early. It was not
no wish, but a way.

Kevin Young

Say Grace

Jacob Lawrence: The Great Migration Series, panel 10

Got a spoon
Got a pan
Got a bucket for the scraps

Got a nail to hang our things on
A wish
An empty sack

Dear Lord bless our little bit
This table
Our beds

Dear Lord who made us
And the world
Now can we raise our heads

Rita Dove

As the Crow Flies

—from Mississippi

In every town Negroes were leaving by the
hundreds to go north and enter into Northern
industry. (1940–1941)

Of the four went three:
Hubert, Roscoe, Sugar—not
my grandmother, Lee.

Natasha Tretheway