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

Dirt

I got one part of it. Sell them watermelons and get me another part. Get Bernice to sell that piano and I’ll have the third part.
—August Wilson

We who gave, owned nothing,
learned the value of dirt, how
a man or a woman can stand
among the unruly growth,
look far into its limits,
a place of stone and entanglements,
and suddenly understand
the meaning of a name, a deed,
a currency of personhood.
Here, where we have labored
for another man’s gain, if it is fine
to own dirt and stone, it is
fine to have a plot where
a body may be planted to rot.
We who have built only
that which others have owned
learn the ritual of trees,
the rites of fruit picked
and eaten, the pleasures
of ownership. We who
have fled with sword
at our backs know the things
they have stolen from us, and we
will walk naked and filthy
into the open field knowing
only that this piece of dirt,
this expanse of nothing,
is the earnest of our faith
in the idea of tomorrow.
We will sell our bones
for a piece of dirt,
we will build new tribes
and plant new seeds
and bury our bones in our dirt.

Steel

A truckload of fresh watermelons, 
lemon-green goodness on a slouching 
truck, cutting through so many states: 
Arkansas, West Virginia, Maryland, 
into the smoke-heavy Pennsylvania cities; 
from red dirt like a land soaked 
in blood to the dark loam of this new 
land—from chaos to the orderly 
silence of the wolf country—Pittsburgh's 
dark uneven skyline, where 
we have found shelter 
while the crippled leader 
waits to promise healing 
for a nation starving 
on itself. Two men, dusty
from the Parchman Farm, 
their eyes still hungry 
with dreams, laugh bitter 
laughs, carrying the iron 
of purpose in them. Hear 
the engine clunking, hear 
the steel of a new century 
creaking. There is blood 
in the sky—at dawn, the city 
takes them in like a woman. 
Inside them all memory 
becomes the fiction of survival—
here the dead have hands 
that can caress and heal, 
hands that can push a living 
body into a grave, hold it there, 
and the living get to sing it. 
This is a nation of young men, 
dark with the legacies 
of brokenness, men who know 
that life is short, that the world 
brings blood, that peace 
is a night of quiet repose 
while the dogs howl in the woods, 
men who know the comfort 
of steel, cold as mist at dawn, 
pure burnished steel.

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.

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