Sculpture With Fragments of Stuart Hall

Christian Campbell
“I would have gone back,” the voice
full of shells, gravel, liquid washing
stones, back meaning lost island

or calendar, a thing rigged
with bones unbending, unfolding past
the hard symmetry of clocks,

vertebrae of thought moving now
in real time, home a word hollow
as the bone of birds—tody, cling cling,

gaulin, euphonia—“That dream was over.”
Such oneiric geometry, “The Blue Room”
built by Miles, his horn a grail from which

you sup the saudade of marine might-have-been
never-will-be, embouchure unthought,
no better than Vidia for leaving.

So we leave, skein of shadows,
silent psalms for how our scourge
was beauty, home; brightboys fleeing

the estate for another on that other
island, jolted by the freight of shame.
Mas Hall, thanks for the company

on the volte-face voyage, stingy-brim
on which we sailed, migration of monarch butterflies.
Landfall at Port of Avonmouth in a scene

from Hardy, landfall at Tilbury Dock
to step off the caravel in white gloves,
stout ties, leave to remain vagrant.

Lonely Oxonians together,
oak hatch of the Bod we’d shade,
then off to All Souls to cram

for mods, toiling in Codrington
we leaf through Thistlewood.
And so we are marked. Is it Marx

or Douglass with that beard? Bound
to become Judas-Brutus, blood
diamonds paid us in arrears to try

the line of Hopkins, Auden, Eliot, Donne.
Evensong at New Chapel to ease
the medieval weight of failure in the refrain

of white robes, one brown seraph alone:
“O hear us when we cry to Thee
for those in peril on the sea.”

’Gainst the towers most colored I feel,
dear Stuart, in these duds, our hide,
sub fusc aeternum. You grasp browning leaflets

on the stump; O betraying beauty of brown:
bankra, Barbancourt, Venetian ducats, dhalpuri,
khaki, Gauguin. Remember the strange fog a night

on Broad St. as if below Friedrich’s Wanderer?
But, as you taught, who more Wanderer than we,
the evicted on the victor’s turf, playing the past,

loss a force centripetal? All praise
to your mind a sextant, darklit as Diwali.
You bless our kin severance. How I wish

to forget your sister strapped to the sugar mill,
charged with spoiling the color scheme:
sedition. Ah, compay, even leaves of the croton

sprout from our eyes. There is no going back.
Thinking translucence you say, “Bend the stick,”
different than Lenin or United Fruit. The rank of Bombay

mangoes exceeds all migrations. The lignum vitae
insists on itself. Navel string toughens to twine
with the rhizome, portal in the ground.


1932-2014

            —with Kara Springer’s “Repositioned Objects, I,” primer on wood.

Related Poems

The Sea Is History

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, like a light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the shit, the moaning:

Exodus.
Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mosaics
mantled by the benediction of the shark's shadow,

that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor

the plangent harps of the Babylonian bondage,
as the white cowries clustered like manacles
on the drowned women,

and those were the ivory bracelets
of the Song of Solomon,
but the ocean kept turning blank pages

looking for History.
Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors
who sank without tombs,

brigands who barbecued cattle,
leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,
then the foaming, rabid maw

of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,
and that was Jonah,
but where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea-sands
out there past the reef's moiling shelf,
where the men-o'-war floated down;

strop on these goggles, I'll guide you there myself.
It's all subtle and submarine,
through colonnades of coral,

past the gothic windows of sea-fans
to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,
blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;

and these groined caves with barnacles
pitted like stone
are our cathedrals,

and the furnace before the hurricanes:
Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills
into marl and cornmeal,

and that was Lamentations—
that was just Lamentations,
it was not History;

then came, like scum on the river's drying lip,
the brown reeds of villages
mantling and congealing into towns,

and at evening, the midges' choirs,
and above them, the spires
lancing the side of God

as His son set, and that was the New Testament.

Then came the white sisters clapping
to the waves' progress,
and that was Emancipation—

jubilation, O jubilation—
vanishing swiftly
as the sea's lace dries in the sun,

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,

fireflies with bright ideas
and bats like jetting ambassadors
and the mantis, like khaki police,

and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.