The close bond between poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Haki Madhubuti was expressed in several poems they wrote about each other. Within a year of meeting Don Lee (Haki Madhubuti), Gwedolyn Brooks wrote “Don Lee Wants.” The impact of his presence in her life was so deeply felt, that the poem was written as a gesture of her devotion to him, and respect for his role in her life and in the Black Arts Movement. She refers to him in prophetic terms, and empowers him with having the proper vision for the future of blacks in America. She puts him on a proverbial pedestal, as perhaps her shining protégé, or a mother’s favorite child, as she says he “is not candlelit/ but stands out in the auspices of fire/” (96). As a mother, she wants what is best for her child, and in this case, it’s the same thing that he wants. “. . . he does not want to/ be exorcised, adjoining and revered;/ he does not like a local garniture/.”
Brooks and Madhubuti wrote about each others’ hands. In “Young Heroes-II: To Don at Salaam,” she fondly describes how she has “enjoyed seeing him live and grow.” She tells him that she likes to see him with his “fine hands in your print pockets.” Again, she describes his stubborn nature that was so influential on those around him. “Impudent,” she says, no doubt in reference to the way he regarded white society. “Your voice is the listened-for music,” she says, affirming her belief that his voice was deeply needed to help black people make progress towards unity. The bold type “your” in “Your act is the consolidation,” suggests that he likely shared the same sentiment with her on a previous occasion.
In “On Her Own Terms,” Madhubuti writes about Gwendolyn Brooks, noting “For most writers and readers who turned to her work, she was the melody in our music. . . In her small and delicate hands, she expanded language to include the Black side of life” (Honoring Genius, 23). Although both Gwendolyn and Haki acknowledge that she was not his birth mother, they mutually expressed a parent-child affection for one another. In “Mothers,” Madhubuti dedicates the poem to four women, two of which I assume to be his biological mother and grandmother, in addition to (another relative) Inez Hall, and Gwendolyn Brooks. The opening line is “Mothers are not to be confused with females who only birth babies” (47). In “Young Heroes-II,” Brooks acknowledges that his “boy smile” is a “tribute . . . for two of us or three” (95). In “A Mother’s Poem (for G.B.),” written in 1984, he credits Brooks with saving his life from the fate of so many young black men who die violent deaths or end up in jail, and explains how her motherly love went beyond biological relationship. “Your caring penetrated bone and blood/ and permanently sculptured a descendant./ i speak of you in smiles/and seldom miss a moment/ to thank you for/ saving a son” (Madhubuti, 44).
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Blacks. Third World Press, 1987. Print.
—. Jump Bad: A New Chicago Anthology. Broadside Press 1971-1983. Print.
Gayles, Gloria Wade. Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks. University Press of Mississippi
Jackson, 2003. Print.
Kent, George E. A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, The University Press of Kentucky, 1990.
Honoring Genius: The Narrative of Craft, Art, Kindness and Justice. Third
World Press, 1987.