Epiphaneia and other poems

Epiphaneia and other poems
Seven poems by the author of Make Us All Islands (Shearsman), which was shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis Forward Prize, and Giant (Platypus Press), as part of World Poetry/Prose Portfolio [WPP], curated by Sudeep Sen


How else do we know that we are alive?
Channel a way for yourself through this world;

warm your bones; make life amidst the strife.
What are poems but prayers? An unfurling
of hope, wonder — the words come like a gale
about my head. And then the waves of tributes.
Another gone.
                   Now Shabine, make your books our gaol.
See the streaking swift, hollow your canoe.
Out there on the blue, good poet, dance.
I’ll stand here, my hand shielding my eyes from
the reddening sun, until the old man’s
salted head slips under the horizon.
What am I to do with all that you give,
except to fight, to work, to love, to live?

Redemption 2. Writing Walter

We wrote our names in the sand but waves
washed them away. At some point, we all want
to be known. As you were — a prophet, brave

a symbol of freedom — but you were slave
to your own calling, a life sacrosanct
leaves you sewn to us as martyr in grave.

How that car became a tomb, the blast waves
washed you away. I watch your image haunt
yellow videos, your eyes form a maze

of the crowd. Are you searching for courage?
You are just a man standing on platforms
talking freedom. What use to us are brave

souls? Here and home were not always the same
thing, you knew that the struggle was not born
with you and that it would not end in graves.

What does life look like when consumed by flame?
Inside, the bomb made a fiery storm.
I wrote your name in the sand but the waves
washed it away.

Catachresis / Brighton

thunder drums an anthem broken with staccato
over the unfolding city, its sky

pricked by glittering domes & rain rusted
spires. In the distance, the dead pier floats

along in grey silence / my heart beats
in my eyes as I feel the Atlantic

tugging from beyond the gusting channel
at the throbbing stigmata of slavery.
The festering wound is a bleeding mouth, 
its tongues tracing the archipelago.
A constellation of ragged islands,
colonies abandoned, the floating ruins

of empire. What names have we 
for the life that sprouts from them now?

On The Martyrdom of St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins / London

In the Victoria and Albert Museum,
in room 50b,
hangs a five hundred year old painting.
What has always been
and remains a tale of savagery —
the bearded Huns, 
faces and hearts darkened, 
butchering pale virgins
on the banks of the Rhine and, 
in the thickness of violence, 
Etherius dying, lanced, in Ursula’s arms, 
her golden hair already a flickering halo.

The women have been torn apart.
Severed heads lay in red rivulets 
on the ground beneath them,
but above,
angels flock and bear their souls 
to the threshold of heaven.
The work of colonizing
bodies and space
                                      is a work of naming,
                        of owning.
Five hundred years ago,
a scattering of rocks, 
(islands and cays)
lay in view 
from the decks of a fleet 
of rugged caravels.
What has always been 
and remains a tale of savagery —
the bearded Spaniards, 
faces and hearts darkened,
butchering souls 
on the shores of St. Croix and, 
in the thickness of violence,
a row of sainted murderers, 
their white ruffs like flickering halos.

So many have been torn apart,
their bones bleached and smoothed 
by the acidic earth, 
but above, 
the flocking clouds bear their souls 
back to the eternal horizon.


I return to Trinidad like a wave,
with the knowledge that the poet is dead
but not yet knowing what that means. I save
things in books. I listen for the unsaid,
the silenced, to find language to name things,
to untrust these many memories that
I carry like faith. The kiskidee sings
its song – an echoing over the black
ash of the canefields. The wheel is broken,
the hungry weeds overtake the garden,
and we search for a way to see chaos
as its own order. As a world maddened.
But the earth still spells history in layers
of rock, each stratum a stanza written.
A silvered portrait of the infinite.

The Only Way to Find Where We Must Go 

There is only
this old way
to live that bends
the body like light 
this way (breaks it),
like a heart too tight
for love to mend it,
too tired to breathe
blood back into itself.
There is only
this old way
to use the sun
to measure the distance
to your body from mine,
like how far it is
from the bow to land,
or your mouth
to my name.
There is
only this new
way to die.

Dead Reckoning

They say birds always find their way back home
but home is a nowhere — a memory; a never was.
Do wings remember spaces in the air
the way we might a place? A field of rice?
How do you fly back to that? Away from
         a tomb of fears, this place yearning for you…
Some years ago, I lay bright flowers on
my grandmother’s grave. Years before, I saw
my grandfather’s ashes taken by the
furrowing wind in the Bocas islands.
I am not myself nor have I ever been
something apprehending the sun
and other bright celestial objects
thinking: this is a tapestry in orbit

around me. I am completely convinced that
we were the last creatures to discover

how to be in the world. My beard grows wild.
My children brush past me in the darkness.
Their chattering voices fill my ears and
then my chest and I cannot hold it in.
I am always coming home. 

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