New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology

Sanctuary

I name this Sanctuary. Enter.
I want you to bare your feet—
you must feel the difference in touch.
A Kilim rug stretches far ahead,
offered for your every step,
its hard fibers impervious to what weighs,
acting as emissary from the ancient
grievances of earth-bound weavers.

Be deaf to the clamor from giant
shelves filled with music scores.
The din you hear comes from spirits—
the grasping of ghosts
removed from the life they knew—
old musicians improvising on death.

Alive, they believed they heard music
coming from the spheres.
Now they are shades in search of form.

This corridor is long: it leads to a room whose walls recall
the color of doves and the smoothness of snakes.
There, breath accommodates silence,
a quiet in the understanding of clouds,
patient like an amphitheater of empty seats.

Your eyes must accommodate the light—
night of the womb shown in mirrors;
gilded pools, unmoved, undeterred,
reflecting the reverse side of your mind.
You must retrieve the limbs and faces
of your life out of quicksilver,
like Narcissus each time he leans over.

There are no guardians here
but you are perceived. This is a world
attuned to the trance of roses on a home altar—
life stilled in totems and idols set in courtly order
atop a hardwood console: an eagle
alighted on a mermaid
perched on a whale seated on an owl;
an Alaskan bear bowing to Ganesh
nestled in a palanquin, a rat underfoot,
while a porcelain yellow-throated wood warbler
silences a Navajo story-telling doll
spied on by a bronze doe.

What descends here has heart within lead.
There is no blood here but the blood of saints.

In this loosely-authored wilderness,
view the miraculous image on a shroud;
love the Virgin of the Sign entreating souls of the deceased
arrived at the margins of time where the horizon fragments—
“Imitate,” she might say, “how Jude Thaddeus cradles Christ,
how John the Baptist offers his head,
Saint Lucy, her gouged eyes,
Agnes, her ablated breasts.”

I name this a sanctuary.
Here, Saint George pierces the beast for all eternity,
lays down its shameful mass over Irish lace,
winds blowing aslant the New England cold.
There is no fire here. No ashes.
Water surges over terrain
that moves like a nude woman
enraptured in a silent bed.

(first version) Published by Carcanet Press Inc. England

New Caribbean Poetry, Anthology, 2007

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