Sunday, April 01, 2012

Nat'l Poetry Month 30/30 challenge. Poem 1 of 30

How I learned to talk or why I will not be killed; a warning - ars poetica

It is a living vibration

rooted deep within my Caribbean belly

Lyrics to make a politician cringe,

or turn a woman’s body into jelly…

David Rudder

I’m trying to tell you what I know of poetry;

how I learned to talk, and how there was

always a stage involved. I’m trying

to tell you that even now there is a throbbing

behind this keyboard, my body davening

to something it thinks it hears. The root

of this is so far planted, it knows nourishment

in the spine’s call, wants what rushes up

the back to call me to move, as its

messiah on Earth – its high priest

of making meaning out of the body’s

insistence that it live. If I tell

you this is a language only translatable

as drum, you will say you have heard

this before, which is to say you know

nothing of how the center bass thump

squats the body, and then pushes it up

and then maybe what comes brawling

its way into my throat wants

to fill stadiums because it remembers

how many things have tried to kill it.

It remembers the sea, and it is in thrall

to the smell of blood. It makes my mouth

full of mornin loves and kiskidees – words

that only begin to say what seethes

inside what I’m dying to have you know;

which is of course nothing to do with

you, but everything about the desperate,

uncuttable umbilical to old old old

black women who still say Son

who get up and hold me when they hear

Rudder or Lion or Sparrow or Chalkie

and they don’t care that I’m crying;

that loss is unnameable except we have

a music snatched from gods and roots

and the insides of oil drums and its concerned

only to make communion with the shackle

and the bottom of the sea and iron

in a dirt that most of us will never see

again. I’m telling you that these psalms

are called Calypso; and they are

spells to Shango and they supplicate

Osun, but they hold in the hollow

of bamboo, cut and dragged from

off the St. Ann’s Hill, the ring of Ogun’s

forgings towards war, the confusion

of I want to go home and I will not

work this land and hibiscus and

woman I don’t know how to tell

you, you are my earth and anchor

and I will not give what is trying

to kill me the satisfaction of my death.

This is how I learned

to talk. This talk, this calypso

is the warp and weft of what it means

to be black and remember, in the way

that only blood in the spine remembers

the dirt in that continent we still

taste biling in our throats, who hold

us when we weep, the lyrics to the song

of the cutlass ringing against the steelpan

stansion, the morse code of a scar,

the secret of the dragon’s dance

in the masquerade and the stories

still impelled by the sea and manifest

as bodies killed and discarded in cane fields.

But also, how many columns

of old women and brothers and uncles

whose vocabularies are built of the same

passage of blood, who know us when we sing

and the d-doom of the drum signals

other words learned by my spine like

bury and God and soca and wine

down low and we’re not ready

to die today, we’re not ready

to die today

and they’re stacked behind us

singing songs by Tiger and Attilah,

their tire irons moving blood in rhythm

for miles around and chippin slow

up Charlotte street and priming

for this fight.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email


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