Leaf of Fall Back and Rise

By | 1 May 2021

The heart of darkness is not Africa.
The heart of darkness is the core of fire
in the white center of the holocaust.

–Derek Walcott

In Kingston, the sirens fill the twilight air—
the curfew begins with casual ease
and the slow emptying of the street
before the staining of streets
with the mute lights of a city hiding from itself.

The people are stoic:
“If a dead we fi dead, den a dead we mus dead.”
Or perhaps this is resignation. Down in the market,
the strugglers announce themselves,
they say “Look around you, look around you,
who do you see, face-to-face,
if not we are the strugglers, while the safe
hide in their mansions and wait.”
This did not begin as a song of class and power,
it began as a pastiche of sorts,
a strained pastoral of an island waiting for the chaos
of bodies falling away. And the older women
are in their gardens gathering
ginger root, cerise, thyme, mint leaf,
shame-old-lady, and the poetry
of invention in the names of the leaves
that will stave off death—
Leaf of Refresh My Lungs, Leaf of Woman Power,
Leaf of Forgive My Sins, Leaf of Charity and Grace,
Leaf of Africa Vengeance, Leaf of Fall Back and Rise.
At dawn the roll call—the ritual of obituaries;
the men are slipping away;
the veteran artists; it is as if their persistence
is an affront—Ellis Marsellis, Bob Andy,
Bill Withers, the mourning arrives in feeds,
tiny bytes of dispensable lamentations—
blue lights, green lights, white lights,
the scrolling screen of images flashing,
the truncated sentiment, the pocket grief;
where will the slow march to the funeral be,
and where the high-stepping,
the weeping, the performance of joy
under spinning, gleaming umbrellas?
This is how a culture is made.
“Bring out your dead!” Ecuador, Iran, “Bring out your dead.”
In Kingston, they have taken to calling
the police The Virus, and, “It a come, it a come
it a come.” To think that beside the dispatches
from Kingston, Aba, did you think
it could come to this?
Did you think it could come to this?
I read Saint-John Perse’s lament to Friday,
and pray never to be an alien to the earth
I long to rest my soul in. But all of this is a vanity,
a deep misguiding vanity, while the world
collapses around us. All these contagions,
and the American President chuckles at his soaring numbers:
My TV Ratings last night were higher
than the Super Bowl, did you see that?”
What monstrosity have we wrought
that we have no language to speak of it?
And here come the sirens,
the Virus are turning the corner,
in their masks and with their batons,
“Ba-by, Ba-by-lon, Ba-by, Ba-by-lon, Ba-by, Ba-by-lon.”
Here, in the cave of my study, here where I study
the necromancy of verse,
and horde my secret fantasies—
I can’t share this hidden ration with anyone,
I simply hide and chew, lick away the residue
and face the family. Here on the soft fabric
of paper pulled from wood, preserved between
sheets of soft-beaten cotton strips,
I confess that the virus may have arrived
in the tender embrace of love, a friend
or a stranger, or a tainted breeze
in the daily rituals of labor and living,
and I search out the economics of death—
will my family owe the taxes I owe?
Will they be free to step out into the new season,
protected, kept, debt free?
What must I do to prepare? What instructions?
How to be clear that these are the ordering of a life,
not a note of a suicidal depressive? You see why
I dare not shout this from the roofs?
This is what Babylon the Virus has done to us.

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