San Francisco: Scarab Press, 1972. Single volume, measuring 8.5 x 5.5 inches: . Original full black pictorial cloth, boards lettered and stamped in white, original unclipped dust jacket. Text printed in red and black. Signed and numbered by Harper on limitation page; additionally inscribed in the year of publication to Gwendolyn Brooks on front free endpaper. Lightest soiling to jacket; faint offsetting to endpaper gutters.
Signed limited edition of this early poem by Michael Harper, one of five hundred copies, warmly inscribed to Gwendolyn Brooks, the poet responsible for jumpstarting Harper’s career: “For Gwen Brooks: ‘The dream of every poem is to be a true myth’ – long life!” Harper and Brooks were close friends, brought together by Harper’s first collection of poetry, the National Book Award-nominated Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970). In a 2009 interview, Harper remembered that Brooks “was the person who gave me my career: she took my book out of the slush pile and insisted that the University of Pittsburgh Press publish [it].” The nine-part poem is drawn from Harper’s collection of the same year, Song: I Want a Witness. Dedicated to his wife Shirley, and inspired by her work as a photographer, the poem weaves interconnecting themes of black and white, photographs and negatives, ancestors and descendants: “As a black man I steal away / in the night to the apple tree, / place my arm in the rich grave, / black sachem on a family plot, / take up a chunk of apple root, / let it become my skeleton, / become my own myth: / my arm the historical branch, / my name the bruised fruit, / black human photograph: apple tree.” The poem ends by invoking Roger Williams, Puritan founder of Rhode Island, the state where Harper was then teaching. He would become the first poet laureate of Rhode Island in 1988. A near-fine copy, with an exceptional association, linking two major African-American poets of the twentieth century.