“i never stopped loving no / one” –etheridge knight

BIRTHDAY POEM
The sun rose today, and
The sun went down
Over the trees beyond the river;
No crashing thunder
Nor jagged lightning
Flashed my forty-four years across
The heavens. I am here.
I am alone. With the Indianapolis / News
Sitting, under this indiana sky
I lean against a gravestone and feel
The warm wine on my tongue.
My eyes move along the corridors
Of the stars, searching
For a sign, for a certainty
As definite as the cold concrete
Pressing against my back.
Still the stars mock
Me and the moon is my judge.
But only the moon.
‘Cause I ain’t screwed no thumbs
Nor dropped no bombs—
Tho my name is naughty to the ears of some
And I ain’t revealed the secrets of my brothers
Tho my balls’ve / been pinched
And my back’s / been / scarred—
And I ain’t never stopped loving no / one
O I never stopped loving no / one
                                                                       Indianapolis, Indiana
                                                                      April 19, 1975
-Etheridge Knight

*

This poem echoes in my head as a daily mantra, particularly the last stanza, in which Knight gives us two of the most beautiful poetic lines I know of:

And I ain’t never stopped loving no / one

O I never stopped loving no / one

These lines bring strength to my heart and remind me of my dignity. When I recall the lyric phrase, “I never stopped loving no / one” I think how that’s true for me–and gain a sense of reclaiming.  Because if we can say that much for ourselves, maybe there’s hope for the world.

To never stop loving, to never cast anyone aside—is a revolutionary act.  A society that teaches it’s ok to put ourselves above others—other socioeconomic groups, other races, other countries, other sexualities, other genders—is out of skew.  So few of us receive unconditional love, yet it’s something all of us need.  To forsake anyone is to forsake ourselves.

The speaker in this poem turns the other cheek. He’s saying he’s been beaten before, he’s been molested—but he refuses to cast such hatred and violence against another. He will not dishonor his brother, torture people, or drop bombs. He chooses love.

I admire the tightness and music of Knight’s lines, and the efficiency of his syntax. “Cause I ain’t screwed no thumbs” brings a visceral image of torture and a declaration against such brutality, in just six syllables. Subtle, sensual images like “The warm wine on my tongue” let us anchor ourselves in the slightly buzzed euphoria & lonesome soul searching of the narrator.

This poem begins with a primordial ceremony—the rising and setting of the sun, which ushers in all births and deaths each day. Reverence for the solar system is established, yet the speaker says there is nothing especially striking about this day–the anniversary of his birth.  He has humbled himself to his place in the universe–his role in the “the corridors of the stars.” And he acknowledges the dead and eternity by celebrating his birth in a graveyard. Though lonesome under the stars, it’s consoling that the moon cannot judge him too harshly because he’s never turned to the wrongness of dropping bombs or ratting out a friend.  He “never stopped loving no / one.”  The lines sing.

The pause indicated by “/” after “no” accentuates the word “one,” and brings to mind oneness. I think it is the egolessness that comes to mind from “O I never stopped loving no / one”– the oneness, a power invoked by continuing to love everyone in our lives no matter what despair and torture the world faces us with—that makes the last stanza of this poem such a powerful mantra.

2 comments

  1. kskpoet · September 16, 2014

    Thanks so much–I didn’t know the poem until today and am grateful for it and for your feelings about it. Really needed this today. Your blog means so much to me!

    Liked by 1 person

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