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.

More by Kwame Dawes

A Way of Seeing

It all comes from this dark dirt,
memory as casual as a laborer.

Remembrances of ancestors
kept in trinkets, tiny remains

that would madden anthropologists
with their namelessness.

No records, just smells of stories
passing through most tenuous links,

trusting in the birthing of seed from seed;
this calabash bowl of Great-grand

Martha, born a slave’s child;
this bundle of socks, unused

thick woolen things for the snow—
he died, Uncle Felix, before the ship

pushed off the Kingston wharf,
nosing for winter, for London.

He never used the socks, just
had them buried with him.

So, sometimes forgetting the panorama
these poems focus like a tunnel,

to a way of seeing time past,
a way of seeing the dead.

Trickster III

This bassline is sticky like asphalt
and wet like molasses heated nice and hot,

and the bass drum booms my heart,
jumping me, jump-starting me

to find the path of this sluggish sound;
I follow the tap like a fly catching light

in its rainbow gossamer wings
on top of a big-ear elephant;

I follow the pluck of a mute lead-guitar string,
tacking, tacking out a tattoo to the bassline;

I let the syrup surround my legs
and my waist is moving without a cue,

without a clue of where we are going,
walking on the spot like this.

Coolly, deadly, roots sound on my back,
and I can conjure hope in anything;

dreams in my cubbyhole of a room where
the roaches scuttle from the tonguing gecko.

This music finds me giddy and centered, but when
morning comes, I am lost again, no love, just lost again.

Requiem

I sing requiem
for the dead, caught in that
mercantilistic madness.

We have not built lasting
monuments of severe stone
facing the sea, the watery tomb,

so I call these songs
shrines of remembrance
where faithful descendants

may stand and watch the smoke
curl into the sky
in memory of those

devoured by the cold Atlantic.
In every blues I hear
riding the dank swamp

I see the bones
picked clean in the belly
of the implacable sea.

Do not tell me
it is not right to lament,
do not tell me it is tired.

If we don’t, who will
recall in requiem
the scattering of my tribe?

In every reggae chant
stepping proud against Babylon
I hear a blue note

of lament, sweet requiem
for the countless dead,
skanking feet among shell,

coral, rainbow adze,
webbed feet, making as if

to lift, soar, fly into new days.

Related Poems

Talking About New Orleans

Talking about New Orleans
About deforestation & the flood of vodun paraphernalia
the Congo line losing its Congo
the funeral bands losing their funding
the killer winds humming intertribal warfare hums into
two storm-surges
touching down tonguing the ground
three thousand times in a circle of grief
four thousand times on a levee of lips
five thousand times between a fema of fangs
everything fiendish, fetid, funky, swollen, overheated
and splashed with blood & guts & drops of urinated gin
			     in syncopation with me
riding through on a refrigerator covered with
asphalt chips with pieces of ragtime music charts
torn photo mug shots & pulverized turtle shells from Biloxi
		     me bumping against a million-dollar oil rig
me in a ghost town floating on a river on top of a river
	     me with a hundred ton of crab legs
	     	     and no evacuation plan
me in a battered tree barking & howling with abandoned dogs
my cheeks stained with dried suicide kisses
my isolation rising with a rainbow of human corpse &  
     			     fecal rat bones
where is that fire chief in his big hat
where are the fucking pumps
the rescue boats
& the famous coalition of bullhorns calling out names
	    hey     I want my red life jacket now
& I need some sacred sandbags
some fix-the-levee-powder
some blood-pressure-support-juice
some get-it-together-dust
some lucky-rooftop-charms &
some magic-helicopter-blades
I'm not prepared
to live on the bottom of the water like Oshun
I don't have a house built on stilts
I can't cross the sea like Olokun
I'm not equipped to walk on water like Marie Laveau
or swim away from a Titanic situation like Mr. Shine
Send in those paddling engineers
I'm inside of my insides
& I need to distinguish
between the nightmare, the mirage,
the dream and the hallucination
Give me statistics
how many residents died while waiting
how many drowned
how many suffocated
how many were dehydrated
how many were separated
how many are missing
how many had babies
and anyway
who's in charge of this confusion
this gulf coast engulfment
this displacement
this superdome shelter
this stench of stank
this demolition order
this crowded convention center chaos
making me crave solitary confinement

Am I on my own
exhausted from fighting racist policies
exhausted from fighting off sex offenders
exhausted from fighting for cots for tents for trailers
for a way out of this anxiety  this fear  this emptiness
this avoidance  this unequal opportunity world of
disappointments accumulating in my undocumented eye
of no return tickets

Is this freedom  is this global warming  is this the new identity
me riding on a refrigerator through contaminated debris
talking to no one in particular
about a storm that became a hurricane
& a hurricane that got violent and started
eyeballing & whistling & stretching toward
a category three domination that caught me in
	     the numbness of my own consciousness
	        unprepared, unprotected and
	           made more vulnerable to destabilization
by the corporate installation of human greed, human poverty
human invention of racism & human neglect of the environment

I mean even Buddy Bolden came back to say
	     move to higher ground
	       because a hurricane will not
	           rearrange its creativity for you
& the river will meet the ocean in
	    	     the lake of your flesh again
so move to higher ground
and let your jungle find its new defense
let the smell of your wisdom restore the power of pure air
& let your intoxicated shoreline rumble above & beyond the
water-marks of disaster

I'm speaking of New Orleans of deportation
of belching bulldozers   of poisonous snakes
of bruised bodies   of instability and madness
mechanism of indifference and process of elimination
I'm talking about transformation about death re-entering life with
Bonne chance, bon ton roulé, bonjour & bonne vie in New Orleans, bon