An island is one great eye
gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
out to where the brain may stumble.But when a mind climbs down
from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
& has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
& plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
filled up with centuries of waiting.
Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
& seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
the last words of men buried at sea.
Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
is to know pig iron & mother wit.
Whoever this figure is,
he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.
To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.
The African Burial Ground
They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
They came to work fields of barley & flax,
livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
to make wooden barrels, some going
from slave to servant & half-freeman.
They built tongue & groove — wedged
into their place in New Amsterdam.
Decades of seasons changed the city
from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
hard work rattled their bones.
They danced Ashanti. They lived
& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
& pine coffins, Trinity Church
owned them in six & a half acres
of sloping soil. Before speculators
arrived grass & weeds overtook
what was most easily forgotten,
& tannery shops drained there.
Did descendants & newcomers
shoulder rock & heave loose gravel
into the landfill before building crews
came, their guitars & harmonicas
chasing away ghosts at lunch break?
Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
strutted overhead, back & forth
between old denials & new arrivals,
going from major to minor pieties,
always on the go. The click of heels
the tap of a drum awaking the dead.