These Nice Guys

after Gwendolyn Brooks


These nice guys. They
forfeit the prize. They

get pushed around. They
carpet the ground. They

exist for others. They
strengthen their brothers. They

doubt their worth. They
inherit the earth.



Joe Spring lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. For more information please visit

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6 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    A brilliant poem, and a brilliant segue from the language of the street to the language of the Gospel.

  2. T. M. Moore

    I agree with Joe. I’m going to link this poem for the Brothers in our Fellowship (, because it gets at the heart of what we are trying to realize in our work together. Thanks so much, Joe. I’ve been in your beloved country twice, with very fond memories both times.

  3. C.B. Anderson


    A very interesting variation on the usual conventions of end rhyme, and a trenchant message as well. One might ask, Who are these people who turn the other cheek? Victims or ultimate survivors?

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      It seems to me that they are victims, if we take the original Brooks poem as a guiding parallel. That poem (“We Real Cool,” I believe is the title), describes a certain class of young men as pleasure-seeking voluptuaries who “die soon” (that’s the last line in the Brooks poem). In this take-off, these “nice Christian guys” are altruistic, charitable types who always get the short end of the stick. After losing everything in life, they “inherit the earth,” which in the context of the Brooks poem means that they just get shoveled under. The poem has a strong cynical tone, especially with the epigraph about such nice men being “a dime a dozen.”

      • Joe Tessitore

        The original is fascinating – thank you, Dr. Salemi:

        We real cool. We
        Left school. We

        Lurk late. We
        Strike straight. We

        Sing sin. We
        Thin gin. We

        Jazz June. We
        Die soon.

  4. Joe Spring

    Thank you all for such great comments. In reference to the original and Dr Salemi’s comment, I’ll clarify that I picked up the heartbreak of the original and from there the theme differs vastly. I don’t mean mine to be cynical though I appreciate now noticing the alternative, dark interpretation of “inherit the earth” (surely some strong imagery and ideas for future work there). No, I mean to position the weak reputation against the final truth, leading from pitiful niceness through the real experience of struggle and doubt, toward a promise that should then work its way back through to how we can revise how we see ourselves. Brooks’ ends with sorrow, this one with a hope. CB I wish I could take credit for the structure, as it is truly marvellous. And yes the view of victim/survivor is what’s contended, from within and without.


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