for Colin Channer

For these cramped fragments of Thomas,
           stir: ‘I had never loved England,’ and stir:
           ‘I had loved it foolishly,’ stir, transmuted:
           ‘like a slave, not having realized it was not mine.’

Ah, there, saint, captive, the sentinel is at the door,
            beating upon the bulwark of its silence.
            I, a late remnant in that still, unceasing circuit
            scaling down the dock, I am a mystery among faces, know

injustice and illusion, and laughter
           that is silver lashing, lashing the hummingbird
           in the breeze. I know something drastic is
           waiting release, some instrument to measure,

in one stroke, paradise, and when it strikes again,
           emptiness, the city gripped with emptiness.

It is happening, right here, as you see, in syntax;
          my circadian fortress is pitching me. Rocksteady. 

And because our enmity is strong and our love
          is strong, they bring us together, divided:
          fire into fire: first, sea; and of sea, cane;
          the lasting enmity, faithless and haunting.

The mass and strength of our love, the blades
          of our imagined empathy, our compassion,
          crossed from an abridged womb, the sea;

wind lifts the balance sheets of the dead, unbalanced;
          names are fluttering against the divided sun.
          I look up on what’s mine and not, nettled
          first in literature, now drained to a grey core:

‘the worlds whole sap is sunke,’ utterly dry.
          Progress at rest, resting of a vacant peace,
          after four centuries, laden with perish

and gain. Everywhere touched by the rain,
          ending, a ‘work that’s finished to our hands.’ Rocksteady.

From the Peninsula

The old trees shake out medals at midday
to the ship paused for a meteor’s blunting
glimpse in the windy yellow of the water,

partway to inventing another world.
Through the window’s tiger slats,
the bakery pumps smoke, years between

her irretrievable shawl, which crimsons
what I see, watching further and further,
until canisters shatter into nitrate stars,

late at night, saluting an unforgiving song.
I tilt down on her iron bed and cluster
haunted basil, the scent rifts morning open

to argon of cobwebs, the dim cargo, the bent
hills, the black gold, her hands, clasped
shut her children, long gone, under the sea.
 

Carol

Oaks or chestnuts, what here
                draws brass linen, wakes me, overcast,
                with the polished sprigs of my grandmother’s
                lamp, holding the plumed shade once

holding fire by her opened Bible, parsed
                for the night’s reading. Across dark and
                plywood, an aqueduct’s dry run, listen
                my voice, around her house, croton leaves

from the oven’s heat, levitating.
                Saturdays doubles her to a bee. I outstare
                the sea and summon the carols of Christmas;
                her fake pine tree, its foil star

perforates the town’s gossiping lights.
                I again turn the pages, she sleeps
                in the watered-down night.

Where do they go? Where do they go?

Aubade

                                    for Edward Baugh

Flashing silk phantoms
from the promontory,  
when seen at dark  
rushing to their beds,
those lights corroding
over Navy Island,
never grow old.  
In two enamel basins,
fill water to wash overripe
stars, eaten without
second guess, worm
and all, from veranda
chairs, where no guilt
brims over, whatsoever. 
As frost, unknown, intimate
breath bursts hot its kind
silence. Get up, go greet
Errol Flynn’s ghost
at the empty footbridge,
leaning on the breeze.
Maroons hum out
of hills, restless as
unappeased trees,
ringing,
“Even days coming
are already gone
too soon,” then return
before the river’s lustre
hides their voices
and immeasurable
slow leaves bring
down our morning.

Related Poems

Cape Coast Castle

I made love to you, & it loomed there.
We sat on the small veranda of the cottage,
& listened hours to the sea talk.
I didn't have to look up to see if it was still there.
For days, it followed us along polluted beaches
where the boys herded cows 
& the girls danced for the boys,
to the moneychanger,
& then to the marketplace.
It went away when the ghost of my mother
found me sitting beneath a palm, 
but it was in the van with us on a road trip to the country
as we zoomed past thatch houses.
It was definitely there when a few dollars
exchanged hands & we were hurried
through customs, past the guards.
I was standing in the airport in Amsterdam,
sipping a glass of red wine, half lost in Van Gogh's
swarm of colors, & it was there, brooding in a corner.
I walked into the public toilet, thinking of W.E.B.
buried in a mausoleum, & all his books & papers
going to dust, & there it was, in that private moment,
the same image: obscene because it was built
to endure time, stronger than their houses & altars.
The seeds of melon. The seeds of okra in trade winds
headed to a new world. I walked back into the throng
of strangers, but it followed me. I could see the path
slaves traveled, & I knew when they first saw it
all their high gods knelt on the ground.
Why did I taste salt water in my mouth?
We stood in line for another plane, 
& when the plane rose over the city
I knew it was there, crossing the Atlantic.
Not a feeling, but a longing. I was in Accra
again, gazing up at the vaulted cathedral ceiling
of the compound. I could see the ships at dusk
rising out of the lull of "Amazing Grace," cresting 
the waves. The governor stood on his balcony,
holding a sword, pointing to a woman
in the courtyard, saying, That one.
Bring me that tall, ample wench.
Enslaved hands dragged her to the center,
then they threw buckets of water on her, 
but she tried to fight. They penned her to the ground.
She was crying. They prodded her up the stairs. One step,
& then another. Oh, yeah, she still had some fight in her,
but the governor's power was absolute. He said,
There's a tyranny of language in my fluted bones.
There's a poetry on every page of the good book.
There's God's work to be done in a forsaken land. 
There's a whole tribe in this one, but I'll break them
before they're in the womb, before they're conceived,
before they're even thought of. Come, up here, 
don't be afraid, up here to the governor's quarters,
up here where laws are made. I haven't delivered
the head of Pompey or John the Baptist
on a big silver tray, but I own your past, 
present, & future. You're special.
You're not like the others. Yes, 
I'll break you with fists & cat-o'-nine.
I'll thoroughly break you, head to feet, 
but sister I'll break you most dearly
with sweet words.