Eight uncollected early poems

Note: The following eight early poems written in 1964–1965, all of which predate the poems in Weatherly’s first published collection, Maumau American Cantos, are taken from typescripts at the Rosey Pool Collection, now at the University of Sussex.[1] Pool, the Dutch editor of the anthology Beyond the Blues: New Poems by American Negroes (Hand and Flower Press, 1962) and a fascinating figure in her own right, entered into correspondence with numerous African American poets, some of whom were already established figures, and some of whom, like Weatherly at this point, were only just starting out. As the dates of composition indicate, Weatherly was at this time working equally in more conventional and experimental modes. The terse line and unconventional spelling that would come to characterize Weatherly’s mature work are absent, and the themes and tone of the poems vary considerably. A number of the poems contain handwritten corrections (as indicated in the printing here of “Melissa’s Song”), and none were ever published. Yet they provide valuable insight into the development of a singular writer. Of particular interest is “Tidal,” an experiment in villanelle form echoed in Weatherly’s later “canto 28 (moonshine),” itself revisited in his final book, short history of the saxophone, and the music which begins to sing through “Melissa’s Song.” — David Grundy


Adam (May 2, 1964)
Epitaph on the Tomb of a Writer, Famous Posthumously. (May 2, 1964)
Melissa’s Song (August 7, 1964)
Commercial: A Word from Our Sponsor. (October 3, 1964)
Seeing Her Again (October 11, 1964)
Prosody Ain’t Poetry (March 16, 1965)
Regret (January 16, 1965)
Tidal (April 3, 1965)
Pass the Tea, Please (April 7, 1965)


This gardener mimeographs flowers,
his steel mills erect fruitless orchards;
assembly line genesis with a green thim-
ble sowing lilies among cactus.
Crabgrass puller!

Adam pollinates with no be,
orbits hydroponic Eden with prayers of mathematical axioms.
Theories explain love, mind over data;
faith is fact.

Adam drowns in washing machines.
Eve rinses antiquity with ammonia.
The coast guard posts storm warnings for Galilee;
Adam’s son water skis.

Faith; hope; charity: But
greater than these is hate
this side of arc
angles, where mathematicians kill

man with slide rules.

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., May 2, 1964

Epitaph on the Tomb
of a Writer, Famous

Fill the grave with poems and memoirs,
erasers, he was man;
and spade in novels, love and stars,
he will not write again.

Cover him with clay as cold
as critics were at first;
his book the critics praised as gold,
he thought the worst.

Plant flowers (he is blind);
Metaphor no tear;
words of praise to him extend
insult too close to bier.

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., May 2, 1964

Melissa’s Song 

I hear her singing
in bread hard days of six day bread
soup and crackers in the stomach puke clanging
against smooth sides of nigger need;
The telephone ringing

round the hot-lined roused world, incidence
collides with death and dry, eyes cry
sand; whispers in windy ears wince
hollow dyed head to a grave, lie
told moonspun minds gel in nun sense.

Old coon, smile at five cent Cain,
hear her singing, clay in the Ethiop clamor
voices, Hollywood glamor is bleach grandeur
of she sings-high and she sings love rain
Mississippi river nigger red red rain.

Rain-drenched, this need-knocked wench sings
beyond all choirs of yassuh: and nossuhs — 
beyond all tides of nigger blooming springs —
beyond white rooster horizons all stirs
her spirit …“My Lord what a morning .. morning.”[2]

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., August 7, 1964

Commercial: A Word from Our Sponsor.

Death is a household item, a can of which
you keep on your shelf until
housecleaning begins.
Insert ingredients: Breath.
Before consuming, shake until you hear rattle.
Daily consumption is inevitable. Effective.
No money-back guarantee.
One can to a customer.

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., October 3, 1964

Seeing Her Again

I see brown eyes, green dress, her again.
Our silences common thing as rain.
She is older; I am: We are
aged into strangers and strange that
neither care, or hope to care what
feel, touch, our then we were aware.

Our sentimental memo is
dead, no, live, no, half yes as in a vase;
flowers there for too days for spring,
there too reek, for the winter.
Our host is anxious to present her.
Gold earrings; I see again her eyes.

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., October 11, 1964 

Prosody Ain’t Poetry

One speech of figure
everything does: every word
speaks and hears, for a time
actually there, beyond
belief; elsewhere, as perhaps
or discover. Word,
all a one anything:
teeth every thought/dentures every act
(except for apples …
and apples let me tell
you, are not good metaphors
to keep the rictus away).

My pinion is poetry.

My opinion is poetry,
is a that do,
that don’t. And,

scrawls between periods..

                                    . IS POETRY.

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., March 16, 1965


Love, child:
you were born for love.
For a moment of pleasure
you were born to sorrow;
you were born to sorrow
for a monument of pleasure.
I leave for your legacy
things I cannot give you,
kisses on the fingers
for your young hurts;
kisses God shall have to give you;
kisses which shall bring a sigh[3]

when you think of me.
Love is why,
and the past is indelible;
love is why,
though you may not ask;
child, you were born;
child, you are loved;
love is why:
I leave for your legacy
things I cannot give you.

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., January 16, 1965


Dormant, the sea, like freedom,
black, and waiting to be freed;
restless at night for freedom.

Grow in the statutes of freedom,
brothers, let tomorrow lead.
Dormant, the sea, like freedom.

Men unlearn to be afraid,
driven by the ancient need;
black, and waiting to be freed.

Held by the damned from freedom;
eternal sea, urgent creed,
restless at night for freedom.

You ask if we shall succeed.
History’s hieroglyphs read:
“Dormant, the sea, like freedom,
black, and waiting to be freed;
restless at night for freedom.”

— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., April 3, 1965

Pass the Tea, Please

Some writers
gel the liquid in molds:
prepare life in novel
ways, for folks on diet.

Some writers
freeze the liquids in trays,
for drinks between acts of plays.

Some writers
add yeast, ferment and age
liquids in casks. Drunks
drink memoirs.

Well, as emotions are liquids —


— Thomas E. Weatherly Jr., April 7, 1965 

1. Rosey Pool Papers, University of Sussex Special Collections, TS 17/19 (verse), folder W, Tom Weatherly (19–254/262). Reproduced by kind permission of the University of Sussex and the estate of Tom Weatherly.

2. In addition to underlines, replicated here, Weatherly’s handwritten corrections to this poem include brackets in the lefthand margin: one spans the first three lines of the poem, and another spans the entirety of the last stanza.

3. “shall” is a handwritten insertion to this line in the original manuscript.