When you no longer know God
when you are no longer sure
that you ever knew him;
when you are done praying
with your fingernails,
with your eyes pressed into the sand,
with your teeth broken against the pavement;
when you are done with speaking to the silence
wishing that the silence would hear;
when you are done with waiting
at galleries or in music halls,
waiting to gasp at the beauty
of things, waiting
to fall in love;
when you are done slamming doors
that were not relevant to anything,
done shaking houses, and making plates
jump from their shelves;
when you are done throwing bricks
into the seats of parked cars
shouting -- this is for that boy
who was killed,
shouting -- this is for the taxes
that were raised;
when you are done with the news
because it no longer breaks your heart
and you now know sand
where there was once river in your inner parts;
when you are ready
to say -- I have done terrible things,
and there is a room somewhere that holds
this evidence, a thumbprint
made in blood;
then this creed is for you.
We belong to a single country,
and this is our sad anthem.
“A Creed” by Kei Miller. A Light Song of Light. Carcanet Press, 2010.
There is a brutal honesty in this poem. It moves from scenes of utter desolation with the use of the second person, “when you are done praying/ with your fingernails,/ with your eyes pressed into the sand,/ with your teeth broken against the pavement;” seeming isolation, “when you are done speaking to the silence/ wishing that the silence would hear;” and anger, “when you are done throwing bricks/ into the seats of parked cars/ shouting--this is for that boy/who was killed,” to repentance, stated in the first person, “when you are ready/to say -- I have done terrible things.”
In that moment of confession and penance, “a thumbprint/ made in blood,” the distance of the second person, “then this creed is for you,” becomes disarmingly intimate: “We belong to a single country,/ and this is our sad anthem.” By this tonal shift, the speaker deftly includes the reader in the “sad anthem” about the “terrible things” of the past and achieves reconciliation.
The irony is, however, that after reading the poem, I don't feel saddened, but relieved by a communion of shared guilt about "terrible things" in the past and stand in the liberating present.Which is all I can hope for.
About Kei Miller
Kei Miller is a Jamaican poet, fiction writer, anthologist and occasional journalist. Miller was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He read English at the University of the West Indies, but dropped out short of graduation. However, while studying there, he befriended Mervyn Morris, who encouraged his writing. Afterward, Miller began publishing widely throughout the Caribbean. In 2004, he left for England to study for an MA in Creative Writing (The Novel) at Manchester Metropolitan University under the tutelage of poet and scholar Michael Schmidt. In 2006, his first book of poetry was released, Kingdom of Empty Bellies (Heaventree Press). It was shortly followed by a collection of short stories, The Fear of Stones, which explores the issue of Jamaican homophobia. It was shortlisted in 2007 for a Commonwealth Writer's Prize in the category of Best First Book (Canada or Caribbean). His second collection of poetry, There Is an Anger That Moves, was published in 2007 by Carcanet Press. He is also the editor of Carcanet's New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology (Carcanet Press, 2007). He has been a visiting writer at York University in Canada, at the Department of Library Services in the British Virgin Islands and a Vera Ruben Fellow at Yaddo. Miller currently divides his time between Jamaica and the United Kingdom, where he teaches Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow.