Beyond the River Road

15 May 2017

(On observing artists Ras Akyem Ramsay and Ras Ishi Butcher in a van stand)

You had to look close, as close as yuh hand.
And you had to look way beyond to see them.

They not resembling any kind of Lord: Time, a-leaping or otherwise—yet they strode dimensions. You had to see them tekking on the River Road, shaving its edges; throwing all comers, all goers into shade—the homeward-bound, the outward and unbound, stragglers, strays; quieting the flippant pigeons and the flapping flightlessness of school-chil’run, mudda’s milk still dripping roun’ dey open, force-ripe mouths. They smoothed the blurred lines of tourists, smiles as taut as budget strings, and quelled the van men failing (yet again) to mind their own backsides, looking to scale a fuss up to a fight—mista policeman nowhere in sight—and the sun, badman at his own fete, stirring up the cuss and spite. Like he following a script.

One a dem carried a stick, carved—or maybe it was a length of cane. Yuh had to look good to see the heads angled in reasoning; reckoning. And they moved as one across that jukking stage, locs melding into torsos, melding into arms and legs: Two bred’ren dred with ways and means crammed into their backpacks; African Jedi, black Samurai striding straight out of their own secrets and dreams. And they looked like they were plotting. And it looked like the plotting of a tearing down of walls. But it looked like the urgent erection, first, of those fated walls; or before that, the planting of trees to meet beneath to wage campaigns to fire the bricks to build those self-same walls. And it looked like a bleeding. And it looked like a tidal wave of river-sea-ocean-stream. And it looked like flashes of forgotten forest and distant hill and vanishing field; and a mix-up, mix-up of earth and clay and coral limestone and sand and skin. And it looked like the crisp, Falernum light of dawn or the badman rant of a sun in a van stand gone midday; the thick mauby of afternoon. It looked like flaming sunsets and a sacrament of blood moons and blue moons and no moon and midnights—all of it, leeching into the streets to pigment the winds. And they looked like they were ready. And it looked like they were poised to lore themselves into the soil before our very eyes.

But you had to look good because they did not linger. They moved like apparitions of blood, of flesh, of sinew. They did not steal the foreground, just owned it for a moment, threw the rest of us some shade and placed the stand on mute. One of them carried a stick. Carved it was. Or maybe just a piece of cane, for wielding. Weaving spells. Or shaving edges. Hard to tell with that loose, unhurried stride, not looking, as they did, like lords of time or thievers of spotlight, or bringers of cool, coned silence to ice the sun. We won’t know …

’cause we ain’t seeing so good up close
and even less beyond the River Road.

 


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