April 13, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: The Divine

Shook Foil

The whole earth is filled with the love of God.
In the backwoods, the green light
is startled by blossoming white petals,
soft pathways for the praying bird
dipping into the nectar, darting in starts
among the tangle of bush and trees.
My giddy walk through this speckled grotto
is drunk with the slow mugginess
of a reggae bass line, finding its melody
in the mellow of the soft earth’s breath.
I find the narrow stream like a dog sniffing,
and dip my sweaty feet in the cool.
While sitting in this womb of space
the salad romantic in me constructs
a poem. This is all I can muster
before the clatter of school-children
searching for the crooks of guava branches
startles all with their expletives and howls;
the trailing snot-faced child wailing perpetual--
with ritual pauses for breath and pity.
In their wake I find the silver innards of discarded
cigarette boxes, the anemic pale of tossed
condoms, the smashed brown sparkle of Red Stripe
bottles, a mélange of bones and rotting fruit,
there in the sudden white light of noon.


How quickly the grandeur fades into a poem,
how easily everything of reverie starts to crumble.
I walk from the stream. Within seconds
sweat soaks my neck and back, stones clog my shoes
flies prick my flaming face and ears;
bramble draws thin lines of blood on my arms.
There is a surfeit of love hidden here;
at least this is the way faith asserts itself.
I emerge from the valley of contradictions,
my heart beating with the effort, and stand looking
over the banking, far into Kingston Harbour
and the blue into grey of the Caribbean Sea.
I dream up a conceit for this journey
and with remarkable smugness it fits:
this reggae sound: the bluesy mellow
of a stroll on soft, fecund earth, battling the crack
of the cross stick; the scratch of the guitar,
the electronic manipulation of digital sound,
and the plaintive wail of a grating voice.
With my eyes closed, I am drunk with the mellow
swimming, swimming among the green of better days;
and I rise from the pool of sound, slippery with
the warm cling of music on my skin
and enter the drier staleness of the road
that leads to the waiting city of fluorescent lights.

"Shook Foil" by Kwame Dawes. Shook Foil. Peepal Tree Press, 1997

In “Shook Foil,” Kwame Dawes has the audacity to declare: “The whole earth is filled with the love of God.”  It is a bold claim. For despite the natural beauty that surrounds the speaker, “green light /is startled by blossoming white petals,” the profane world, "this speckled grotto" creeps in: “the silver innards of discarded/ cigarette boxes, the anemic pale of tossed/ condoms, the smashed brown sparkle of Red Stripe.”

Suddenly everything collapses and seeking solace from the “valley of contradictions, it is the music, specifically reggae, that provides salvation: “the scratch of the guitar,/ the electronic manipulation of digital sound,/ and the plaintive wail of a grating voice.”

The redemptive power of the music provides ritual baptism: “and I rise from the pool of sound, slippery with/the warm cling of music on my skin” and from this he can re-enter the wasteland of the metropolis: "the drier staleness of the road/ that leads to the waiting city of fluorescent lights.”

In this poem, there is a divine symmetry of the human with music and the landscape-- evidence of a “natural mystic” transforming the mundane into the miraculous.

About Kwame Dawes

Kwame Senu Neville Dawes is a poet, actor, editor, critic, musician, and Louis Frye Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of South Carolina. He grew up in Jamaica where he attended Jamaica College and the University of the West Indies at Mona. He studied and taught in New Brunswick, Canada on a Commonwealth Scholarship. As a PhD student at the University of New Brunswick, he was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Brunswickan.

Since 1992 he has been teaching at the University of South Carolina. He is a Professor in English and also Distinguished Poet in Residence, Director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and Director of the USC Arts Institute. He is also the faculty advisor for the publication Yemassee. He won the 1994 Forward Poetry Prize, Best First Collection for Progeny of Air.

Dawes collaborated with San Francisco-based writer and composer Kevin Simmonds on Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country which debuted at Royal Festival Hall in 2006, and featured sopranos Valetta Brinson and Valerie Johnson.

In 2009, Dawes won an Emmy Award in the category of New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming: Arts, Lifestyle & Culture. His project documented HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, interspersed with poetry, photographs, and other media. The website "Livehopelove.com" is the culmination of his project. He is director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, Jamaica.

Source: Wikipedia

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