Home Page
Louisiana Anthology

Alice Dunbar-Nelson.
“The Proletariat Speaks.”

Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Alice Dunbar-Nelson

I love beautiful things: Great trees, bending green winged branches to a velvet lawn, Fountains sparkling in white marble basins, Cool fragrance of lilacs and roses and honeysuckle. Or exotic blooms, filling the air with heart-contracting odors; Spacious rooms, cool and gracious with statues and books, Carven seats and tapestries, and old masters Whose patina shows the wealth of centuries.

And so I work In a dusty office, whose grimèd windows Look out in an alley of unbelievable squalor, Where mangy cats, in their degradation, spurn Swarming bits of meat and bread; Where odors, vile and breathtaking, rise in fetid waves Filling my nostrils, scorching my humid, bitter cheeks.

I love beautiful things: Carven tables laid with lily-hued linen And fragile china and sparkling irridescent glass; Pale silver, etched with heraldries, Where tender bits of regal dainties tempt, And soft-stepped service anticipates the unspoken wish.

And so I eat In the food-laden air of a greasy kitchen, At an oil-clothed table: Plate piled high with food that turns my head away, Lest a squeamish stomach reject too soon The lumpy gobs it never needed. Or in a smoky cafeteria, balancing a slippery tray To a table crowded with elbows Which lately the bus boy wiped with a grimy rag.
I love beautiful things: Soft linen sheets and silken coverlet, Sweet coolth of chamber opened wide to fragrant breeze; Rose-shaded lamps and golden atomizers, Spraying Parisian fragrance over my relaxed limbs, Fresh from a white marble bath, and sweet cool spray.
And so I sleep In a hot hall-room whose half opened window, Unscreened, refuses to budge another inch; Admits no air, only insects, and hot choking gasps, That make me writhe, nun-like, in sack-cloth sheets and lumps of straw. And then I rise To fight my way to a dubious tub, Whose tiny, tepid stream threatens to make me late; And hurrying out, dab my unrefreshed face With bits of toiletry from the ten cent store.

Text prepared by:


Dunbar-Nelson, Alice. “The Proletariat Speaks.” 1929. Print.

Home Page
L’Anthologie  Louisianaise