The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 590

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Ridin’ the Moon in Texas, the collection of poems containing “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine,” responds to particular works of art. The artwork to which “irrepressibly bronze” specifically responds is an untitled photograph of a man’s back by acclaimed and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The poem, occupying four and one-half pages, is not an extended description of the photograph; rather, it is a poem on a topic—black men—inspired by it.

The poem is divided into three sections, all written in free verse. The first section, written in the first person, itself seems to break up into two parts. The first part provides a history of the speaker’s sexual awakening. It begins with a childhood crush on a friend of her father who used to arrive in St. Louis each summer with different white women. The speaker thought of this man as hers because he was black, as she is. This memory triggers another, of laughing and playing with young boys who would grow up into black men “if they lived so long.” She remembers the sexual excitement and mild sense of danger of dancing with black men as a young woman.

This leads into a part of the poem, written in the present tense—a portion that reads like a seduction. “Look at me pretty niggah,” she says, and “bring it on baby.” The language in this part of the poem is explicitly sensuous, clearly sexual, and full of images of “holding your heart” and other representations of love. When the speaker says, “you rode off & left/ your heart in the palm/ of my child hand,” it seems that person she is addressing is still the friend of her father who used to visit in the summer.

In section 2, the poem begins a transformation. Grammatically, this section expands outward, from the first-person singular to the first-person plural. By the end, the narrator is talking about “our beauty” and “our heroes.” Similarly, the personal tone of the first section becomes political when she identifies the man who used to arrive each summer as “of course george jackson,” referring to the black militant and writer who died in prison. The line “soledad, soledad” is at once a reference to the Soledad Prison, where George Jackson served time; to his book, Soledad Brother (1971), written in prison; and to the literal translation of this Spanish word, “solitude.” Ntozake Shange pictures Jackson fighting for air in prison and associates him with two other slain black activists, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. This triggers a chain of associations of black men whom she considers beautiful for their courage, including Bob Marley, the legendary reggae performer, and Jackie Wilson, the popular soul singer of the 1960’s and 1970’s who died in the 1980’s. The closing line of this section, “soledad mi amor soledad,” seems to be a meditation not only about George Jackson and his imprisonment but also about the solitude of assassination, or simply neglect, visited upon many of the strongest black men of her youth.

Section 3 is a brief description of lovers making love under palm trees. Against the mournful, almost elegiac background of the second section, this description of petticoats and panties being pulled down, of the music of muscles, of shoulders and bodies in motion, and of jaguars prowling “when their/ eyes meet” is presented as a life-affirming image. Under these trees, young black women make love with young black men whose lives are threatened and often cut short by the violence of a racist society.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352

Ntozake Shange is perhaps best known as a playwright who infuses her plays with poetry. It should come as no surprise, then, that her poetry has its own theatricality; that is, it is poetry which is best read aloud.

In “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine,” she does not use standard punctuation. The only punctuation she allows herself is a slash mark (/), which she uses to indicate a slight pause but not specifically to replace other forms of punctuation. These slash marks can be seen as analogous to the marks of a conductor’s sheet that indicate the pace of the music. The effect is that some of Shange’s lines of poetry seem to contain several lines within them.

The shift in person the poem undergoes, from first-person singular in section 1 to first-person plural in section 2 to third person in section 3, indicates a similar shift in the perspective of the poem. In the first section, Shange speaks from the point of view of a woman recalling her own sexual awakening and excitement with black men. Thus, the tone is personal. In section 2, she remembers the struggles and deaths that black men have faced in her lifetime. The identification of the man about whom she was specifically speaking in section 1 as George Jackson should not be taken too literally. Rather, she is painting a collective picture of the black man: The black man is Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Wilson, and many others. Thus, she speaks in a plural voice. The third section tries to put the erotic excitement of young black men and women in perspective. Following the descriptions of men who have had to struggle for life, this section looks approvingly on young men and women taking pleasure in life. The metaphors she uses in this section—of tongues wrapping around each other, of “dew like honey” slipping from lips, and of jaguars prowling when eyes meet—makes it clear not only that making love is a life-affirming act but also that it is an act that can productively express the ferocity of the lives of black youths.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250

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