At Anchor: The Real Situation

                 for Bob Marley, Bavaria, November 1980
 
Here is the brilliant morning on a fishing boat,
this is the dream a dying man has in midwinter,
the world covered in light and shadow—he dreams
of St. Ann’s Bay, of the murmur of soft waves.
 
The sea is familiar as all dawns are familiar.
We walk into them knowing it is our sack
of troubles that we spill open to color
the sky. But here on the boat, at anchor,
apart from the ordinary lull of the easy
tide, there is a certain peace. 
 
He cannot know that in six months 
the weight of locked wool on his shoulders 
will be lifted, that in the soft gloom of a German 
chalet in deep January he will anticipate with terror 
his death, rewriting his theology of eternity, shadowed
by the swirling clouds, the bickering sycophants,
the friends who will not stop to pray, frightened 
as they are by the end of the crusade, the last 
triumphant march through the world’s plaza where
the faithful Milanese, one hundred thousand strong,
stand beatific under the benediction of brutalizing music.
 
And here he already knows that his last songs
convey the weight of a man sitting on the sea,
staring out into the slithering metallic green 
and imagining his words as prayers. 
 
This is the burden a poet must carry with him 
to the sea, the burden for a truth unfettered 
by the promise of another morning. The sea
is a continuous tomorrow, so unremarkable
that it becomes an exquisite now: 
what a lofty standard of truth it is for a poem.

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.

Requiem

I sing requiem
for the dead, caught in that
mercantilistic madness.

We have not built lasting
monuments of severe stone
facing the sea, the watery tomb,

so I call these songs
shrines of remembrance
where faithful descendants

may stand and watch the smoke
curl into the sky
in memory of those

devoured by the cold Atlantic.
In every blues I hear
riding the dank swamp

I see the bones
picked clean in the belly
of the implacable sea.

Do not tell me
it is not right to lament,
do not tell me it is tired.

If we don’t, who will
recall in requiem
the scattering of my tribe?

In every reggae chant
stepping proud against Babylon
I hear a blue note

of lament, sweet requiem
for the countless dead,
skanking feet among shell,

coral, rainbow adze,
webbed feet, making as if

to lift, soar, fly into new days.

Land Ho

I cannot speak the languages
spoken in that vessel,
cannot read the beads
promising salvation.

I know this only,
that when the green of land
appeared like light
after the horror of this crossing,

we straightened our backs
and faced the simplicity
of new days with flame.
I know I have the blood of survivors

coursing through my veins;
I know the lament of our loss
must warm us again and again
down in the belly of the whale,

here in the belly of the whale
where we are still searching for homes.
We sing laments so old, so true,
then straighten our backs again.

Related Poems

Dear Michael (2)

The wound cannot close; language is a formal exit
is what exits from the wound it documents.
The wound is deaf to what it makes; is deaf
to exit and to all, and that is its durable self,
to be a mayhem that torments a city. The sound
comes first and then the word like a wave
lightning and then thunder, a glance then a kiss
follows and destroys the footprint, mark of the source.
It is the source that makes the wound, the wound
that makes a poem. It is defeat that makes
a poem sing of the light and that means to sing
for a while. The soldier leans on his spear.
He sings a song of leaning; he leans on a wound
to sing of other things. Names appear on a page
gentian weeds that talk to gentian words, oral
to local, song talk to sing (Singh), and so
he goes on with the leaning and the talking.
The wound lets him take a breath for a little
because it is a cycle of sorts, a system or a wheel
a circle that becomes a wheel and is not a sound
at all, the idea of a sound and the sound again
of an idea that follows so close; say light
and then is there light or a wound, an idea of being
itself in the thing sound cancels. Is there ever a spear
a soldier that leans in, a song that he sings
waiting for a battle? This soldier is only a doorway.
Say that book is a door. I say the soldier
and the local, the word and the weed, the light
and the kiss make a mayhem and a meeting.
So then that the voice may traverse a field
it transmits the soldier on a causeway to the city
leaning on a spear and talking, just after the wound opens
that never creaks and closes, and has no final page.