“Negro Speaks of Rivers”
“Dinner Guest: Me”
On “Dinner Guest: Me” and “Park Bench”
I don’t know whether this poem is supposed to bite at the grievances being experienced by African-Americans or if it is supposed to denounce the indifference that can come with wealth. In my first reading, I thought “The Negro Problem” (2) was just the topic that came up in conversation. At this classy event, the injustice that Black Americans were living with was discussed with moderate concern that tapered off into inaction: “Solutions to the Problem,/ Of course, wait.” (22-23). On my second look at the poem, I saw something perhaps more sinister. If the Negro Problem is a person being wined and dined, then the flow of the last stanza seems to indicate disregard on his part as well. “To be a Problem on/ Park Avenue at eight/ is not bad./ Solutions to the Problem,/ Of course, wait.” (19-23). If this is true, then this poem might better be a condemnation of wealth, that it can distance someone even from their racial ties. Although, it could be that this person is simply trying to be an ambassador, raising support for his fellow African Americans, the sluggishness of these people to help based on their affluence would be a sober warning to the man in Park Bench. That man has his eyes on a suite on Park Avenue, next door to a man with a butler and a maid. If that man disregards him now (forgetting “race” for a second), what is the hope of our rags-to-riches man that he will not develop the same indifference?