Spotlighting Pan-African Poetry

Biography

Rita

Enlarge poem

i.
I first saw you cooking in the background
of a jumpy camera shot, while the dread
held forth, constructing his facade of enigma,
dodging the barbs and darts of Babylon with code,
and three times he denied you, called you a sister,
like Isaac did to Rebecca, leaving her there,
hanging like that, open season for Ahimalech
and the boys, that is what you were,
a flower tarnished, just a helping sister,
Martha in the kitchen swollen with child.
And who, watching this, would have known
of the nights he would crawl into your carbolic
womb, to become the man-child again,
searching for a father who rode off on his white steed
and never returned, never sent a message?
ii.
For years I thought you had lied,
for it was our way to believe the patriarch,
and who would want to declare the coupling
of the downtown dread with the uptown Miss World,
too sweetly ironic, too much of Hollywood
in this sun-drenched, dust-beaten city?
Who would let your black face, weighed by the insult
disturb our reverie? I did not believe the rumours.
So while the nation grumbled and cussed you out,
declared you gold digger and such the like
when he was buried and celebrated in death,
and you published the wedding photos,
the family snapshots of another time;
when you battled like a higgler for rights,
and played every dubious game in the book,
rough-house, slander, ratchet smile and all,
I called it poetic, the justice you received,
for you played the cards right, no bad card drawn
in your hands, as you sat quietly in the back-room
like a nun, bride of Christ and slave to mission.
And when you knew other men
before the tears could dry from our eyes,
and made another child in your fertile womb,
when your garments of silence were replaced
with the garish gold and silver of decadence,
when you entered the studio to play rude girl,
naughty as hell, talking about feeling damned high,
and rolling your backside like a teenager,
I had to smile at the poetic meaning of it all,
for you fasted before this feast,
you played the wife of noble character
eating the bitter fruit of envy
while the dread sought out the light-skinned
beauties, from London, to L.A., King Solomon
multiplying himself among the concubines.
iii.
These days I have found a lesson of patience
in your clever ways, a picture of fortitude
despite the tears, you are Jamaican woman,
with the pragmatic walk of a higgler,
offering an open bed for his mind-weary nights,
an ear for his whispered fears and trepidations,
and a bag of sand for a body to be beaten,
slapped up, kicked and abused; you took it all,
like a loan to be paid in full at the right time.
I no longer blame you for the rabid battles
raging over the uneasy grave of the rhygin dread;
for now I know how little we know of those
salad days in a St. Ann’s farmer’s one-room shack,
where you made love like a stirring pot,
and watched the stars for they were the only light.
What potions you must have made to tie, tie
your souls together like this! I simply watch
your poetic flight, black sister, reaping fruit
for the mother left abandoned with a fair-skinned child,
for the slave woman who caressed the head
of some married white master, with hopes
of finding favour when the days were ripe,
all who sucked salt and bitter herbs,
all who scratched dust, scavenged for love,
all who drew bad cards; you have
walked the walk well. The pattern is an old one.
I know it now. It’s your time now, daughter.
Ride on, natty dread, ride on, my sister, ride on.

Kwame Dawes

Featured Poem:

Hope's Hospice

Enlarge poem

For John Mazourca
These days, the language of death
is a dialect of betrayals; the bodies
broken, placid as saints, hobble
along the tiled corridors, from room
to room. Below the dormitories
is a white squat bungalow, a chapel
from which the handclaps and choruses
rise and reach us like the scent
of a more innocent time.
I am trying to listen to the plump
Palestinian man with his swaying
rural middle-class patois, this jovial
servant, his eyes watering at the memory
of the eleven year old girl brought
to die inside these white walls,
her small body fading, her eyes
fierce with light and hungry
for wide open spaces, for decades
of discovery ahead of her.
When she came her mind was still
unable to calculate the treachery
of rape, to grasp how a man
could seek revenge on her tender body;
why as he wept when they took him
away, she wept, too, like the day
she wept when they took her mother’s
empty body away, the disease
leaving her with nothing but bones,
thin skin, the scent of chickens.
I seek refuge in distractions:
the chapel of charms down the hill;
the pure sound of my youth,
when, cleansed by the perpetual blood,
my sins were never legion enough
for despair; when the comfort
of the Holy Spirit was green as this
sloping escarpment, thick with trees,
cool against the soft sunlight.
The plump man brushes
the gleam of tears from his cheeks.
I think of the simple equations
of compassion; I think of songs,
the harmonica, the strained
harmonies, the bodies of the dying
shuffling past, eyes still hoping;
the van waiting in the shade
to take me from all this;
the long ride through rain and dark
to Kingston, to sleep and more sleep.

How does this featured poem make you feel?

  • Amazement (4)
  • Pride (0)
  • Optimism (0)
  • Anger (3)
  • Delight (1)
  • Inspiration (0)
  • Reflection (6)
  • Captivation (3)
  • Peace (1)
  • Amusement (1)
  • Sorrow (5)
  • Vigour (2)
  • Hope (3)
  • Sadness (1)
  • Fear (1)
  • Jubilation (1)

Comments

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Biography

Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet, Kwame Dawes is the award-winning author of sixteen books of poetry (most recently, Wheels, 2011) and numerous books of fiction, non-fiction, criticism and drama. He is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, and a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska.   Kwame Dawes also teaches in the Pacific MFA Writing program.

Kwame Dawes

Biography

Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet, Kwame Dawes is the award-winning author of sixteen books of poetry (most recently, Wheels, 2011) and numerous books of fiction, non-fiction, criticism and drama. He is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, and a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska.   Kwame Dawes also teaches in the Pacific MFA Writing program.

Rita

Enlarge poem

i.
I first saw you cooking in the background
of a jumpy camera shot, while the dread
held forth, constructing his facade of enigma,
dodging the barbs and darts of Babylon with code,
and three times he denied you, called you a sister,
like Isaac did to Rebecca, leaving her there,
hanging like that, open season for Ahimalech
and the boys, that is what you were,
a flower tarnished, just a helping sister,
Martha in the kitchen swollen with child.
And who, watching this, would have known
of the nights he would crawl into your carbolic
womb, to become the man-child again,
searching for a father who rode off on his white steed
and never returned, never sent a message?
ii.
For years I thought you had lied,
for it was our way to believe the patriarch,
and who would want to declare the coupling
of the downtown dread with the uptown Miss World,
too sweetly ironic, too much of Hollywood
in this sun-drenched, dust-beaten city?
Who would let your black face, weighed by the insult
disturb our reverie? I did not believe the rumours.
So while the nation grumbled and cussed you out,
declared you gold digger and such the like
when he was buried and celebrated in death,
and you published the wedding photos,
the family snapshots of another time;
when you battled like a higgler for rights,
and played every dubious game in the book,
rough-house, slander, ratchet smile and all,
I called it poetic, the justice you received,
for you played the cards right, no bad card drawn
in your hands, as you sat quietly in the back-room
like a nun, bride of Christ and slave to mission.
And when you knew other men
before the tears could dry from our eyes,
and made another child in your fertile womb,
when your garments of silence were replaced
with the garish gold and silver of decadence,
when you entered the studio to play rude girl,
naughty as hell, talking about feeling damned high,
and rolling your backside like a teenager,
I had to smile at the poetic meaning of it all,
for you fasted before this feast,
you played the wife of noble character
eating the bitter fruit of envy
while the dread sought out the light-skinned
beauties, from London, to L.A., King Solomon
multiplying himself among the concubines.
iii.
These days I have found a lesson of patience
in your clever ways, a picture of fortitude
despite the tears, you are Jamaican woman,
with the pragmatic walk of a higgler,
offering an open bed for his mind-weary nights,
an ear for his whispered fears and trepidations,
and a bag of sand for a body to be beaten,
slapped up, kicked and abused; you took it all,
like a loan to be paid in full at the right time.
I no longer blame you for the rabid battles
raging over the uneasy grave of the rhygin dread;
for now I know how little we know of those
salad days in a St. Ann’s farmer’s one-room shack,
where you made love like a stirring pot,
and watched the stars for they were the only light.
What potions you must have made to tie, tie
your souls together like this! I simply watch
your poetic flight, black sister, reaping fruit
for the mother left abandoned with a fair-skinned child,
for the slave woman who caressed the head
of some married white master, with hopes
of finding favour when the days were ripe,
all who sucked salt and bitter herbs,
all who scratched dust, scavenged for love,
all who drew bad cards; you have
walked the walk well. The pattern is an old one.
I know it now. It’s your time now, daughter.
Ride on, natty dread, ride on, my sister, ride on.

Featured Poem:

Hope's Hospice

Enlarge poem

For John Mazourca
These days, the language of death
is a dialect of betrayals; the bodies
broken, placid as saints, hobble
along the tiled corridors, from room
to room. Below the dormitories
is a white squat bungalow, a chapel
from which the handclaps and choruses
rise and reach us like the scent
of a more innocent time.
I am trying to listen to the plump
Palestinian man with his swaying
rural middle-class patois, this jovial
servant, his eyes watering at the memory
of the eleven year old girl brought
to die inside these white walls,
her small body fading, her eyes
fierce with light and hungry
for wide open spaces, for decades
of discovery ahead of her.
When she came her mind was still
unable to calculate the treachery
of rape, to grasp how a man
could seek revenge on her tender body;
why as he wept when they took him
away, she wept, too, like the day
she wept when they took her mother’s
empty body away, the disease
leaving her with nothing but bones,
thin skin, the scent of chickens.
I seek refuge in distractions:
the chapel of charms down the hill;
the pure sound of my youth,
when, cleansed by the perpetual blood,
my sins were never legion enough
for despair; when the comfort
of the Holy Spirit was green as this
sloping escarpment, thick with trees,
cool against the soft sunlight.
The plump man brushes
the gleam of tears from his cheeks.
I think of the simple equations
of compassion; I think of songs,
the harmonica, the strained
harmonies, the bodies of the dying
shuffling past, eyes still hoping;
the van waiting in the shade
to take me from all this;
the long ride through rain and dark
to Kingston, to sleep and more sleep.

How does this featured poem make you feel?

  • Amazement (4)
  • Pride (0)
  • Optimism (0)
  • Anger (3)
  • Delight (1)
  • Inspiration (0)
  • Reflection (6)
  • Captivation (3)
  • Peace (1)
  • Amusement (1)
  • Sorrow (5)
  • Vigour (2)
  • Hope (3)
  • Sadness (1)
  • Fear (1)
  • Jubilation (1)

Rita

Enlarge poem

i.
I first saw you cooking in the background
of a jumpy camera shot, while the dread
held forth, constructing his facade of enigma,
dodging the barbs and darts of Babylon with code,
and three times he denied you, called you a sister,
like Isaac did to Rebecca, leaving her there,
hanging like that, open season for Ahimalech
and the boys, that is what you were,
a flower tarnished, just a helping sister,
Martha in the kitchen swollen with child.
And who, watching this, would have known
of the nights he would crawl into your carbolic
womb, to become the man-child again,
searching for a father who rode off on his white steed
and never returned, never sent a message?
ii.
For years I thought you had lied,
for it was our way to believe the patriarch,
and who would want to declare the coupling
of the downtown dread with the uptown Miss World,
too sweetly ironic, too much of Hollywood
in this sun-drenched, dust-beaten city?
Who would let your black face, weighed by the insult
disturb our reverie? I did not believe the rumours.
So while the nation grumbled and cussed you out,
declared you gold digger and such the like
when he was buried and celebrated in death,
and you published the wedding photos,
the family snapshots of another time;
when you battled like a higgler for rights,
and played every dubious game in the book,
rough-house, slander, ratchet smile and all,
I called it poetic, the justice you received,
for you played the cards right, no bad card drawn
in your hands, as you sat quietly in the back-room
like a nun, bride of Christ and slave to mission.
And when you knew other men
before the tears could dry from our eyes,
and made another child in your fertile womb,
when your garments of silence were replaced
with the garish gold and silver of decadence,
when you entered the studio to play rude girl,
naughty as hell, talking about feeling damned high,
and rolling your backside like a teenager,
I had to smile at the poetic meaning of it all,
for you fasted before this feast,
you played the wife of noble character
eating the bitter fruit of envy
while the dread sought out the light-skinned
beauties, from London, to L.A., King Solomon
multiplying himself among the concubines.
iii.
These days I have found a lesson of patience
in your clever ways, a picture of fortitude
despite the tears, you are Jamaican woman,
with the pragmatic walk of a higgler,
offering an open bed for his mind-weary nights,
an ear for his whispered fears and trepidations,
and a bag of sand for a body to be beaten,
slapped up, kicked and abused; you took it all,
like a loan to be paid in full at the right time.
I no longer blame you for the rabid battles
raging over the uneasy grave of the rhygin dread;
for now I know how little we know of those
salad days in a St. Ann’s farmer’s one-room shack,
where you made love like a stirring pot,
and watched the stars for they were the only light.
What potions you must have made to tie, tie
your souls together like this! I simply watch
your poetic flight, black sister, reaping fruit
for the mother left abandoned with a fair-skinned child,
for the slave woman who caressed the head
of some married white master, with hopes
of finding favour when the days were ripe,
all who sucked salt and bitter herbs,
all who scratched dust, scavenged for love,
all who drew bad cards; you have
walked the walk well. The pattern is an old one.
I know it now. It’s your time now, daughter.
Ride on, natty dread, ride on, my sister, ride on.

Comments

Your email address will not be published.