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.
Copyright © 2017 by Ishion Hutchinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“Rocksteady is one of the great sounds Jamaica has exhaled. It’s a mist between ’70s reggae and ’60s ska. It’s doo-wop, Motown, and Stax all stacked akimbo in a way that gives edge. The sound of a people finding voice while testing the limits of the world.”
Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the author of House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016).
Date Published: 2017-08-02
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/rocksteady