Poems by Kwame Dawes


Image courtesy of Amanda Richards. Shared via a Creative Commons license.



Guyana 1966

They tell me that on the ship the sea was quiet.
I was too young to know the salvation of the land.

We arrived at dusk to the city of ornate kindling.
The delicate matchstick homes lit up
by orange lamps, the flow of a bush fire—
red on black, the sky swallowing the smoke.

Of course, Georgetown was not burning.
Our house at dawn was filled
with light through the jalousies.

I ate eggs, scrambled, aromatic,
with my greasy fingers, they were sweet
with jewels of gleaming scallions.

I remember this redundancy:
I remember, is a lie: I don’t.
I have never been told; so I remember.

Blue pale sky.
Lizards fat as my arm;
my parents sipping rum on the porch,

gay, tipsy, drunk, asleep,
we wailed from the light to arrive
at comfort, like the land.

My sister went tumbling down a hill,
she broke her crown; she still has the scar.

What can I tell you?
I remember everything, and nothing at all;
that we did not return by sea, but by air.



On Marriage and Verse

So here is the secret: it will fail
mostly because all gimmicks thrive
on the myth of sincerity, and there is
none here; except to say I wish
I could judge my lines as well

as those who labor for years
over a simple conceit—long walks,
dreams, research—or at least the agreement
of cohabitation, then the break of it;
the contempt, the betrayal: this is verse.





I built a sentence as I would a house of cards;
of course, I learned how to build a house of cards
years ago—and even though I can’t recall
what a house of course is, I know I built one,
and then for a year, I built one everyday
and tore it down. I learned my way
around a house of cards, not like I have
moved around this new city. Here, I have become
a slave to the prodding of a woman’s voice
saying “re-calculating,” like a reprimand,
and I have the feeling of being perpetually
a stranger in this new flattened city where
the natives find their way with cardinal points;
I am forgetting things, too, these days,
like how to get from here to there, or people’s
names, and the old alphabet trick of miracles
works no more. So I am pretending that it is
normal even when my chest tightens
with panic for a second, and I remember
laughing Jack when he walked from room to room
to say goodbye, to say that in a few months
he would have gone into another country
where no one will know his jokes—gone
to never return—or the day two years later
when I saw Jack standing alone in the parking
lot, and he was long gone; we had no more language
to share. These visions of Jack last a second,
and then I forget to feel afraid. Marvin, the eighty-
year-old soccer player, when a name slips
from him, turns around with a little jig
twice, and then stops and says, “Still not there!”
And we laugh.




In two thousand and twelve the Puerto Rican
immigration officer tells me to take off
my baseball cap, then grins, you have
hair, he is being funny. Lately, I have
taken to cutting my hair low, this has happened,
the self-shaving that is, now that I have left
the South, and I miss the ministrations
of Pup’s Barber Shop. Of course, we are

talking about aging, we are talking
about death. It is my fiftieth year
and my father only has six years on me.
He went down because of a fissure in
the pitch, and the ball kept low. He had
most of his hair—a neat path, too, he did.



Kwame Dawes is an award-winning Ghanian-born Jamaican poet who has authored sixteen books of poetry and numerous works of fiction, non-fiction, criticism and drama. He is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, and a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. He also teaches in the Pacific MFA Writing program.