Saturday, March 27, 2010

Langston Hughes: 'Madam and the Census Man'

During our final day of enumerator training for the U.S. Census, one of our hires stood before the group and offered a delightful (memorized) performance of Langston Hughes' poem "Madam and the Census Man."

This is among a series that the American writer penned beginning in 1943 about an assertive, brassy Harlem heroine named Alberta K. Johnson, or "Madam" Johnson, as she insisted on being called.

The census man, The day he came round,
Wanted my name, To put it down.
I said, JOHNSON, ALBERTA K.
But he hated to write, The K that way.
He said, What does K stand for?
I said, K, And nothing more.
He said, I'm gonna put it, K-A-Y.
I said, If you do, You lie.
My mother christened me, ALBERTA K.
You leave my name, Just that way!
He said, Mrs., (With a snort)
Just a K, Makes your name too short.
I said, I don't Give a damn!
Leave me and my name Just like I am!
Furthermore, rub out that MRS., too
I'll have you know, I'm Madam to you!