Alado Seanadra

Kwame Dawes

Something like forty runs to pile up in fifteen overs
with the sun round like power over the compound.
I prayed like hell out there on the boundary

far from the scorers talking Test cricket as if this game
was another day in the sun. I prayed like hell.
I had made something like twenty – out to a stupid short ball

which should have been dispatched to mid-wicket with ease.
But too greedy, I got a top edge,
and was caught looking naked as a fool in the blazing

midmorning. Now, like a mockery, the bowling was soup
but the boys still struggling to put one single before a next.
So I prayed like hell out there on the boundary, trying to will

a flaming red four my way. Still, I should have known,
after all, God’s dilemma: We playing a Catholic team
that always prayed before each game. And where their chapel

was a shrine, ours, well sometimes goats get away
inside there; and once we did a play right there using the altar
as a stage. So I tried making deals with the Almighty,

taking out a next mortgage on my soul; asking him to
strengthen the loins of Washy who looking alone in the wilderness
out there in the blaze, bedlamized by the googly

turning on the rough patch outside off-stump.
Washy went playing at air, and the wickets kept falling
until it was Alado, flamboyant with his windmill stretch action,

his fancy afro and smile, strutting out to the wicket
still dizzy with the success of his bowling that morning.
And Alado take his guard loud, loud to the umpire:

“Middle and leg, please.” Lean back till his spine crack.
Alado, slow like sugar, put on the tips, prolonging the agony.
Now, Alado surveyin’ the field, from boundary to

boundary as if somebody was about to move a stone,
and the boys start to wonder if this was some
secret weapon, some special plan to win the match

in a trickifying way. I fantasised a miracle
in that moment, but I blame the sun for that.
And then the boy take his stance. Classic poise, bat tapping,

looking like a test class stroke-player, toes shuffling,
waiting for the pace bowler sprinting stallion along the worn
dry grass. Up to the wicket, he bowls, good length ball,

dead on mid and off. Alado shift the front foot forward,
sheer poise and style, head down according to the Boycott book,
elbow up, and unleash a full cover drive,

bat like flying fish catching the sun. And even when we heard
the clunk of the stumps, and see the bails take off,
we all still searching the extra cover boundary

to see the ball slap the boards. Alado Test stay posed off
like that for Lord knows how long. Big smile in his eyes
staring at the ball he must have hit in his dreams.

The umpire signal end of play with the gathering of the bails
and the pulling of the stumps. My soul was saved that day,
the year we never made the finals.

More by Kwame Dawes

Talk

            For August Wilson

No one quarrels here, no one has learned
the yell of discontent—instead, here in Sumter
we learn to grow silent, build a stone
of resolve, learn to nod, learn to close
in the flame of shame and anger
in our hearts, learn to petrify it so,
and the more we quiet our ire,
the heavier the stone; this alchemy
of concrete in the vein, the sludge
of affront, until even that will calcify
and the heart, at last, will stop,
unassailable, unmovable, adamant.

Find me a man who will stand
on a blasted hill and shout,
find me a woman who will break   
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit, teach us the tongues
of the angry so that our blood,
my pulse—our hearts flow
with the warm healing of anger.

You, August, have carried in your belly
every song of affront your characters
have spoken, and maybe you waited
too long to howl against the night,
but each evening on some wooden
stage, these men and women,
learn to sing songs lost for centuries,
learn the healing of talk, the calming
of quarrel, the music of contention,
and in this cacophonic chorus,
we find the ritual of living.

Dirt

I got one part of it. Sell them watermelons and get me another part. Get Bernice to sell that piano and I’ll have the third part.
—August Wilson

We who gave, owned nothing,
learned the value of dirt, how
a man or a woman can stand
among the unruly growth,
look far into its limits,
a place of stone and entanglements,
and suddenly understand
the meaning of a name, a deed,
a currency of personhood.
Here, where we have labored
for another man’s gain, if it is fine
to own dirt and stone, it is
fine to have a plot where
a body may be planted to rot.
We who have built only
that which others have owned
learn the ritual of trees,
the rites of fruit picked
and eaten, the pleasures
of ownership. We who
have fled with sword
at our backs know the things
they have stolen from us, and we
will walk naked and filthy
into the open field knowing
only that this piece of dirt,
this expanse of nothing,
is the earnest of our faith
in the idea of tomorrow.
We will sell our bones
for a piece of dirt,
we will build new tribes
and plant new seeds
and bury our bones in our dirt.

Steel

A truckload of fresh watermelons, 
lemon-green goodness on a slouching 
truck, cutting through so many states: 
Arkansas, West Virginia, Maryland, 
into the smoke-heavy Pennsylvania cities; 
from red dirt like a land soaked 
in blood to the dark loam of this new 
land—from chaos to the orderly 
silence of the wolf country—Pittsburgh's 
dark uneven skyline, where 
we have found shelter 
while the crippled leader 
waits to promise healing 
for a nation starving 
on itself. Two men, dusty
from the Parchman Farm, 
their eyes still hungry 
with dreams, laugh bitter 
laughs, carrying the iron 
of purpose in them. Hear 
the engine clunking, hear 
the steel of a new century 
creaking. There is blood 
in the sky—at dawn, the city 
takes them in like a woman. 
Inside them all memory 
becomes the fiction of survival—
here the dead have hands 
that can caress and heal, 
hands that can push a living 
body into a grave, hold it there, 
and the living get to sing it. 
This is a nation of young men, 
dark with the legacies 
of brokenness, men who know 
that life is short, that the world 
brings blood, that peace 
is a night of quiet repose 
while the dogs howl in the woods, 
men who know the comfort 
of steel, cold as mist at dawn, 
pure burnished steel.