No Ruined Stone

- 1972-

When the dead return
they will come to you in dream
and in waking, will be the bird
knocking, knocking against glass, seeking
a way in, will masquerade
as the wind, its voice made audible
by the tongues of leaves, greedily
lapping, as the waves’ self-made fugue
is a turning and returning, the dead
will not then nor ever again
desert you, their unrest
will be the coat cloaking you,
the farther you journey
from them the more
that distance will maw in you,
time and place gulching
when the dead return to demand
accounting, wanting
and wanting and wanting
everything you have to give and nothing
will quench or unhunger them
as they take all you make as offering.
Then tell you to begin again.

What I'm telling you [excerpt]

Reincarnation, life everlasting--
call it whatever you will--

it will not change
the facts: we are ashes of stellar death.

And, in the end, wishing on shooting stars
is like pinning your hopes

on the last sound of the whistle
trailing off, last chord of the train

sparking on the tracks
then fading into the dark.

Miss Sally on Love

In my time, I was a girl who like to spree.
The whole world would open fi mi

if I shift mi hips to strain
the fabric of mi skirt, just so.

Still, I did learn mi lesson
where love concern: if snake bite yu,

when yu see even lizard, crawling
with him belly on ground, yu run.

Now the gal come to mi, say she fall in love
with man who have a plan fi change.

But she nuh notice him also carry gun?
And, lawd, how she nuh see

who running the show and who
keeping house same way?

from "Passage"

I have come
not to beg nor barter but to enter.

                                                                                                  Who are you seeking?

The past
opens and opens, fleshing me
with loss.
I descend
to find my way,
I who am
haunted and a haunting.

                                                                                                 What are you willing to abandon?

In the before, I continue:
a woman carrying on with the dishes,
the dusting, the sweeping. 
But here, I am the voice of the petitioner.
Dearest, who was once of earth,
Dearest, whose departure has cleft me,
Dearest, who was my country,
my soil, my sun and sky,
every migration 
is a bird taking wing. 

                                                                                                 Is this the place you seek?

And if at last I arrive,
will I find you in that room
with every window like the soul
flung open and flooded
with sounds of the distant sea.
And if I spill
out into the yard, will she be still
there, the child who was me
set down in the grass,
watching the stars blinkering
on and off, their light burning
with the knowledge of death.

                                                                                                  How will you carry this?

I will have to use the flowers to address you.
Wild-blooming frangipani (your cloying scent marks me).
Pointillist-starred ixora (I braid you into my hair).
Indigo-blue plumbago (you obliterate the sky).
Lignum vitae (you foretell all histories).
Roses that grow ragged along the shore (stay with me).

                                                                                                  How will you return to the living?

Called back by the susurrating wind and sea.
Called back by the roots of my hair, dirt
beneath my nails, the body’s sweat and stink.
Called back by their voices, yours
still clenched in my fist. Called back
to all that is matter, bone, and skin,
what fragment of you survives in me
as I open my mouth to speak?

Related Poems

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, Great-Niece of Lord Mansfield, and Her Cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, c. 1779 (by unknown artist)

A Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies...Lord M...calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has. He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her...

        From The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson,
        August 1779

Dido moves quickly—
as from the Latin anime.

Breath or soul.
Beside her, the generations-free kin,

a biscuit figurine in pink.
Dido standing in irony—

the lowest are taller here—
Elizabeth should provide

an unkind contrast: pretty, blond,
pale in uncovered places—

but no.
The painter worships the quickened other.

Dido, his coquette of deep-dish
dimples, his careless, bright love.

Forget history.
She's a teenager.

We know what that means.
Cocky, stupid about reality.

No thought of babies—
feathers in her arms.

She might wave them, clearing
dead mothers from the air—

and surely, she's special—
her uncle dressed her with care,

hid her from triangles and seas
outside this walled garden.

Let her be.
Please.

No Dying Mythical Queen
weaving a vivid, troubled skin—

but Dido, full of girlhood,
and Elizabeth reaching

a hand. Behave, cousin,
she begs.

Don't run away from me.

Dido was the great-niece of William Murray, First Earl of Mansfield; as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, he is responsible for the Somersett ruling (1772), which essentially outlawed slavery in England, though not in the colonies.