the sand felt sandy & loose
until bone & muscle grew heavy
sight short breath shorter
small waves now lap at my mouth & against my slit
out of my mind I am with the smell like fresh seaweed
of our glide our glide deep & slow our belly-to-belly glide
south to the Tongue of the Ocean off the Andros shore
where I lost you dizzy with sonic ringing
bang & buzz & boom deep in my ear
calling me to shore
if in this merciful light-headedness
my heart is a cork playful light with laughter
afloat out there with you leading you oceanward
understand my love there is nothing here
just sand & shore (maybe our earlier home)
& the crushing weight of flesh without water
the too blue sky a mirage of sea just above me
I no longer feel the sun burn my skin
the deep deep where we flukeflapped
& flipperflopped in love
we breached for each other & dipped
& dragged our flukes like drunken oars
off the Nantucket shore while the tourists gasped
that deep is so so far away many muscular tail flaps away
& an oh so slow deep swim in easy drag & glide with you
in pitch cold & utter blackness
your whale breath in my lungs
thankyou for the guard of honour our humpback podmates
you bring to steer me back to you outlandish my love
I would if I could just roll over roll to you roll
all over you & suck another barnacle & another
from your throat eat squid from your tongue
I hear your whalesong above the rest
& you my love you still point your nose to the shore
you would I know this if you could drag
& drag some more the last bits of my imploded flesh
back back back to the deep
HOW BIRDS FLY
Follow the curve of breast bone
the unexpected lightness in take-off,
silent twists and turns
under your hands.
Spread your fingers
up and across the shoulder blades
round & round the ribcage.
The glide and the effortless dive
are in the hollowness
of thigh bones
and the soaring too.
Gently let me know
that you know
landing takes much more
and the flap of wings.
OF BONES & BREATH
Bury me, my bones,
& the balance of my flesh
with my mother & sisters’ bones.
(You know, my Marcus had no grave.)
It is my brittle body
of 93 years
that you leave there,
the bones of a woman
who has lived her life
and died her death
in the time of fullness.
These bones once stood
& layed at five feet seven.
hip bones that expanded,
supple in their sockets
through seven labours
Bones that swayed, rocked and swung
to Ray Charles’ Hit the Road Jack
and Nat’s Ramblin’ Rose,
Marcus loved that song too,
and oooohh I just can’t forget
Billie’s What a Little Moonlight Can do.
So you be brave now
on this final walk with my body on Friday.
I was once woman
who also starched and bleached
your father’s white shirts
with boiled argo starch
while we listened to broadcasts
of Jackie Robinson running us
home to glory.
This is me now stripped to the bone.
hips your father touched – gone!
breasts your gums cut- gone!
You see my bareness
and how bones join together
to shape the symmetry of living.
And when the skeleton returned
I was not afraid.
Don’t cry for me long.
He said: Weep not for me
but for yourselves & your children.
I now understand what that means
from this place freed of my body.
And I bequeath to you
my entire spiritual estate.
Yes, you had a mother who could pray
even in my feebled brain
I still prayed.
I would gladly bear your cross
but it is your journey.
Mine is done.
And so give me my final walk on Friday.
It is a good day to be buried.
Let my full-bodied grandsons carry me.
Let my granddaughters walk with me
in a beauty of their own making.
So with your arms around each other
walk away from the darkened grave.
Take my spirit with you.
Leave my body there and walk away, I say,
with your children.
I am with you.
I live on in the prayer, the chant,
the meditation and the dance.
He said: Let the dead bury the dead.
And I, your everlasting mother,
go on into eternity.
In my last choking breath
I still groaned
Thy will be done!
RONNIE SCOTTS’S JAZZ CLUB 1984
You say, I would rather have been
a classical pianist.
You hold down those jazz and blues keys
until the dogs stop snapping
and the hoses run dry.
I need to know your laughter
is as deep as your blues.
I cannot imagine the 70s
without your drum roll voice
singing of a new world coming,
ushering the good news out of church
into the clubs.
You have no mercy
reliving Mississippi Goddam
before our eyes.
I want to rock you,
hush that prophetic voice to rest.
Nina, your voice is still now,
still the balm in Gilead.
PLACES OF FIRE
the day Zellie & me held a matchstick
to her house made of concrete
we just wanted to play with fire
(not our pink-cheeked dolls again),
to roast weenies with B’Devil himself,
see how he lived for ourselves.
to compare his house to other places of fire
like the oven in the gingerbread house,
the coal fire of Haitians in our pine barrens,
the burning bush at Horeb
and most of all that eternal belly flame
licking at the base of my neck.
I swallowed it all as a girl
that everlasting fire of hell
& jumped rope daily like a prayer
feeding the flames
not knowing yet my power
to take what I need from the gods
believing in the trinity as we did
Zellie & me invite the three pigs & bears
for her & me; & the oriental kings
for her baby brother & christ’s sake;
& Shadrack Meschack & Abendigo
for everyone’s sake
Cinderella say, No not me girl,
been sweeping ashes all day.
just hate places of fire.
so Zellie & me is just we two girls
at the great fire of our lifetime.
we lock Goldilocks in the dollhouse.
he was ready as always grinning
in period costume, B’Devil that is.
come off real easy like a paper doll
from a top the Red Devil match box
in hooded red overalls with pointed ears
a pitchfork at ease & cloven shoes.
when we strike up the matches
sparks & sulfur took us higher
but wasn’t no dance-around-the fire.
flames with fire colours of blue yellow & red
just smoldering black smoke
a small stratus cloud covered our faces.
that day we disappointed B’Devil
who was ready to jump in the ring
& show us his backside motion.
the three brothers was hopping high
to show how they could walk through fire
& the pigs were pleased to be spared a roast.
that xmas following the great ball of fire
we did not light our imaginary fireplace
where I lived in a clapboard house,
prize wood for the devil of a fire.
santa didn’t come down our chimney that night.
I played games of fire & brimstone with my dragon dolls.