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News & Features » February 2016 » Read an excerpt from Tales by Amiri Baraka

Read an excerpt from Tales by Amiri Baraka

To celebrate the release of Tales, the long-awaited reissue of Amiri Baraka‘s 1967 story collection, we’re pleased to give you a taste of Baraka’s provocative writing with an excerpt from the book.

Tales_currentA Chase (Alighieri’s Dream)
by Amiri Baraka
from Tales

Place broken: their faces sat and broke each other. As suns, Sons gone tired in the heart and left the south. The North, years later she’d wept for him drunk and a man finally they must have thought. In the dark, he was even darker. Wooden fingers running. Wind so sweet it drank him.

Faces broke. Charts of age. Worn thru, to see black years. Bones in iron faces. Steel bones. Cages of decay. Cobblestones are wet near the army stores. Beer smells, Saturday. To now, they have passed so few lovely things.

Newsreel chickens. Browned in the street. I was carrying groceries back across the manicured past. Back, in a coat. Sunk, screaming at my fingers. Faces broken, hair waved, simple false elegance. I must tell someone I love you. Them. In line near the fence. She sucked my tongue. Red, actual red, but colored hair. Soft thin voice, and red freckles. A servant.

You should be ashamed. Your fingers are trembling. You lied in the garage. You lied yesterday. Get out of the dance, down the back stairs, the street, and across in the car. Run past it, around the high building. Court Street, past the Y, harder, buttoning a cardigan, to Morton Street. Duck down, behind the car. Let Apple pass; a few others. Now take off back down Court, the small guys couldn’t run. Cross High, near Graychun’s, the Alumni House, donald the fag’s, the jews, to Kinney. Up one block, crooked old jews die softly under the moon. Past them. Past them. Their tombs and bones. Wet dollars blown against the fence. Past them, mattie’s Dr., waltine, turn at Quitman. You can slow some, but not too much. Through the Owl Club, Frankie, Dee’s dumb brother, turn, wave at them. Down the back steps, to dirt, then stone. The poolroom, eddie smiles, points at his hat, pats his car keys, phone numbers. Somerset and the projects. To Montgomery and twist at Barclay. Light people stare. Parties, relationships forming to be explained later. Casual strangers’ faces known better than any now. Wood jaws sit open, their halls reek, his fingers tug at yellow cotton pants and slip inside. One finger her eyes open and close—her mouth opens moaning deep agitated darkly.

In the middle of the street, straight at the moon. Don’t get close to the buildings. Too many exits, doors, parks. Straight at the moon, up Barclay. Green tyrolean, gray bells, bucks. The smoking lights at Spruce. Hip charles curtis. But turn before Herman or Wattley. They pace in wool jails, wool chains, years below the earth. Dead cocks crawling, eyes turned up in space. Near diane’s house and the trees cradling her hidden flesh. Her fingers, her mouth, her eyes were all I had. And she screams now through soft wrinkles for me to take her. A Nun.

Wheeling now, back on the sidewalk, Saturday drunks spinning by, fish stores yawned, sprawled niggers dying without matches. Friends, enemies, strangers, fags, screaming louder than all sound. Young boys in hallways touching. Bulldaggers hiding their pussies. Black dead faces slowly ground to dust.

Headlight, Bubbles, Kennie, Rogie, Junie Boy, T. Bone, Rudy (All Hillside Place) or Sess, Ray, Lillian, Ungie, Ginger, Shirley, Cedie Abrams. Past them, displaced, blood seeps on the pavement under marquees. Lynn Hope marches on Belmont Ave. with us all. The Three Musketeers at the National. (Waverly Projects.) Past that. Their arms waving from the stands. Sun and gravel or the 3 hole opens and it’s more beautiful than Satie. A hip, change speeds, head fake, stop, cut back, a hip, head fake . . . then only one man coming from the side . . . it went thru my head a million times, the years it took, seeing him there, with a good angle, shooting in, with 3 yards to the sidelines, about 10 home. I watched him all my life close in, and thot to cut, stop or bear down and pray I had speed. Answers shot up, but my head was full of blood and it moved me without talk. I stopped still the ball held almost like a basketball, wheeled and moved in to score untouched.


A long stretch from Waverly to Spruce (going the other way near Hillside). A long stretch, and steeper, straight up Spruce. And that street moved downtown. They all passed by, going down. And I was burning by, up the hill, toward The Foxes and the milk bar. Change clothes on the street to a black suit. Black wool.

4 corners, the entire world visible from there. Even to the lower regions.


Amiri Baraka

AMIRI BARAKA/LEROI JONES (1934–2014) was the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. He was named poet laureate of New Jersey by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, from 2002–2004. His short story collection Tales of the Out & the Gone (Akashic Books) was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and won a 2008 PEN/Beyond Margins Award. He is also the author of Home: Social Essays, Black Music, The System of Dante’s Hell, and Tales, among other works.

Posted: Feb 3, 2016

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