Portland Parish/ The Blue Mountains

- 1950-

                                                 (from Negro Mountain)

 

She said,

Get your bearings.

No shape in my gap, not

now. From now

on, it goes

without

saying. If

this is allied to “the negro

character” it’s far

from original—I’d only get

to where we came out of the mountains and

hit the sea. And view

the old coast too, from

the road, the route described

by its indentations—“One bay

after another”—until the road turned inland

again. Civilization’s

tattered

in such. Far

be it from me. One’s

close to nothing.

Something,

though, to the coast—

“My affection

hath an unknowne bottome, like the Bay

of Portugall,” some-

one else had been made

to say.

More by C. S. Giscombe

First Dream

(from Negro Mountain)

Wolves came up the driveway and through the side yard of the old house—this 

was in kindergarten time—and I stood still though I was frightened 

to be in their midst and they took note of me but did 

not bite or threaten me. The light was light I had known—by then—

having seen it in the hour before a thunderstorm: dull, bitter light, and everywhere though

without apparent source. The wolves had ragged gray pelts—bad fur, tufts

of it—and their hindquarters were skinny in comparison to their very big shoulders.

They’d come in apparently from the street, Liscum Drive, and onto the property (which 

was nearly an acre and had once been a farmstead), and they parted around where 

I was standing. It was almost literally a wave of them, those wolves, as 

though they’d come up the hill from West Third Street or somehow got through 

the chain-link fence of the V.A. cemetery that traced the hill 

on Liscum Drive.  

	       A white friend wrote to me, the human figure passes through the animal 

pack unharmed. And she said that she saw the dream as being not about 

the wolves as much as passing through adversity, this exchange 

decades after the dream itself, which had been a thing of moment—visual, 

tinctured with obvious anxiety—and current in my memory for that time before the year she 

and I met.

	   Make no mistake, dear and articulate friends, I knew it    

was an unstable moment. My thumbs  

were different, I’d seen, from one 

another. Beyond the driveway had been pear and walnut trees.  

One passes through a wood, or a track does.  

A dull feeling overtakes you in the field.  

There had been a gate at the driveway but only

the posts remained, grown through by the hedges that stopped on either side 

of the entrance from the street.  What do hills 

summarize? Origin stories? Right

and left separated long before this. Bait me, love

—I can pass until I speak.  

Related Poems

African Postman

for Soloman Ephraim Woolfe

Son, who is dat?
Is de African Postman, Daddy

—Burning Spear

East from Addis Ababa, and then south
deep into the Rift Valley, I can hear the horns
trumpeting over the flat-roofed acacia trees,
see the African women bend low with wood
heavy on their backs, and the cows, goats,
donkeys, mules, sheep, and horses snapped
into obedient herds by sprinting children,
move along the roadside. Life happens here.
I am traveling to the land I have heard about,
Shashamane, the green place, five hundred acres
of Jah’s benevolence, and I know now that
I long to hear the rootsman tell me how,
despite rumors of his passing, the natty
keeps on riding, keeps on standing in the fields
of praise to hold on to the faith of roots people.
Brother Solomon, you put the name Ephraim
on your head and carry the face of the true
Rasta, the face of an Ashanti warrior, eyes deep
under heavy lids, and your skin tight as leather,
blacker dan black. I have met you before
on the streets of Kingston, there where you trod
to the hiss and slander of the heathen, you,
natty dread, gathering the people’s broken minds
into your calabash. You carry it all, tell them
Return to the roots, the healing shall take place.
You are Burning Spear’s voice in the fields of teff,
you tell me of the prophecy of Marcus,
and I listen to you, through the phlegm,
through the gruff of your voice, and suddenly
when I ask about the passing of the Emperor,
you rise up like a staff of correction, your voice
reaching back to the mountains, your warrior
self, your yardman greatness, and you speak
a mystery of those who have ears but won’t hear,
and those who have eyes and won’t see,
and I know/ that this dread will one day stand
in this soil, and find his feet growing roots,
that soon the earth will be darker for the arrival
of Solomon. Let the heathen rage, let the doubters
scoff, let this Ghanaian youth whose eyes
have seen the face of Jesus Christ, let him too
sit and marvel at the face of the natty.
For this African Postman has forsaken
father and mother, and has come to stand
before His Imperial Majesty, to call only him
Father, so that the Father might call him son,
and the world will carry on its weary march,
and the ibises will swoop in the Ethiopian dusk
and the smoke will rise from wood fires,
and the night will come with news that the rootsman,
after four hundred years of being told
he is homeless, has come home, yes, Jah,
has come home.

Sons and daughters of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie,
Earth Rightful Ruler, without any apology say:
This is the time when I and I and I should come home,
yes, Jah… Nah leggo! Nah leggo! Nah leggo!

—Winston Rodney

We All Return to the Place Where We Were Born

What remains of my childhood
are the fragmentary visions
of large patios
extending
like an oceanic green mist over the afternoon.

Then, crickets would forge in the wind
their deep music of centuries
and the purple fragrances of Grandmother
always would receive without questions
our return home.

The hammock shivering in the breeze
like the trembling voice of light at dusk,
the unforeseeable future
that would never exist without Mother,
the Tall tales that filled
with their most engaging lunar weight our days
—all those unchangeable things—
were the morning constellations
that we would recognize daily without sadness.

In the tropical days we had no intuition of the winter
nor of autumn, that often returns with pain
in the shadows of this new territory
—like the cold moving through our shivering hands—
that I have learned to accept
in the same way you welcome
the uncertainty of a false and cordial smile.

Those were the days of the solstice
when the wind pushed the smoke from the clay ovens
through the zinc kitchens
and the ancient stone stoves
clearly spoke
of the secrets of our barefooted and wise Indian ancestors.

The beautiful, unformed rocks in our hands
that served as detailed toys
seemed to give us the illusion
of fantastic events
that invaded our joyful chants
with infinite color.

It was a life without seasonal pains,
a life without unredeemable time
a life without the somber dark shadows
that have intently translated my life
that slowly move today through my soul.


 

Todos volvemos al lugar donde nacimos

 

De mi infancia solo quedan
     las visiones fragmentarias
          de los patios tendidos
               como un naval terciopelo sobre la tarde.
 
 Entonces, los grillos cuajaban sobre el aire
     su profunda música de siglos
          y las fragancias empurpuradas de la abuela
               meciéndose en la noche
                    siempre recibían sin preguntas nuestra vuelta al hogar.

La hamaca temblando con la brisa,
como la voz trémula del sol en el ocaso;
el futuro imprevisible
que jamás existiría sin la madre;
las leyendas
cargadas de su peso lunar más devorador;
—todas esas cosas inalterables—
eran las constelaciones diurnas que reconocíamos sin tristeza.

Entonces no se intuía el invierno,
ni el otoño que retoña con dolor
entre las sombras de este territorio
—como el frío entre las manos doblegadas—
que hoy he aprendido
a soportar
de la misma forma en que se acepta
la incertidumbre de una falsa sonrisa.

Eran los días en que el solsticio
acarreaba humaredas polvorientas
por las ventanas de las cocinas de zinc
donde el fogón de barro milenario
decía oscuramente
el secreto de nuestros ancestros sabios y descalzos.

Las rocas deformes en nuestras manos
     parecían darnos
          la ilusión de eventos fabulosos
               que invadían nuestras gargantas de aromas desmedidos.

Era una vida sin dolores estacionales
     Vida sin tiempos irredimibles:
          Vida sin las puras formas sombrías
               que se resbalan hoy lentamente por mi pecho.

I Belong There

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to 
   her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a 
   single word: Home.