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.
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.