Sentinel Poetry (Online) #54 ISSN 1479-425X


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Kwame Dawes



Translating Love


My grey days gather like the delicate eyelets

of my needle’s pricks; threaded, each stretch

of fabric is patterned –  I love another

so dumbly that I count hours for his voice.


I am learning to say love as an unguent

for the tawdriness of our coupling

in rank motels, in the darkness under

the back stairs –  fumbling for flesh,


swallowing the groan –  leaving behind

the condom wrapped in tissue.  To return

each night, I call it love, make an epic

of it, imagine desire in poems and songs.


Prayer comes easy in this small room

I fall to the floor and tears seep – it is hard

not to cry; the heavy gloom of my chest –         

that he will not love me is my terror.


Some things are solved.  Old crushes crumble,

turn to powder in the face of this.  I know

the dialect of my desire now –  my woman’s

blood warms to a simple metaphor:  Lust.


In three days the walls will melt,

I will smell of blood; I will weep more,

the taut muscle of my desire will grow liquid:

I will take long baths to sooth the weary nerves.


I know seasons, the come and go of need.

I will carry this as a talisman of possibility.

Winter is crawling over the plains.  The scarecrows

are infested by ravens; the corn is blighted.


Give me the memory of that smoked studio

where the skinny brown man with a head too large

for his shoulders skanked out a nation’s pain.

I was there, nurturing the dubplate of desire.


This love is green as the St. Mary Hills where the rivers

are swift, the soil black, the sky full with daily rain.

This love is mellow as a Culture tune, harmonies

undulating in the mango groves, pungent and damp.


Outside is grey, and my music floats

here like oil on water – a glittering skin

of rainbows.  It is morning, my stomach hurts,

I want you to call; to whisper me to sleep.



Against Carnality


You asked me to incant life

    a lyric of hope.


Yet all I speak are narratives

    of consuming flesh.


Teach me the language of life –

    a dancing song – oh Spirit.



The Convenience of Mercy


He knows that what he imagines

is gentler than what he would hear

were I to confess it all, breathlessly.


He knows that in his nightmares

I still have the tender wisdom

of a mother, the grace of a wife,

the wounded hunger of a child;

and my words are always pure

despite the slipperiness of my ways.


He knows we forgive only the things

we know, the rest is God’s affair.





Further inland, beyond the dank stench

of old soap, shed skin and spilt piss


in the gangrened gutters, algae-

green in the rich florescent way


of rot, elemental rot; beyond the tar

stained dykes along the indifferent beach,


beyond the stretch of cornfields,

a horizon of green spears scratching


the startling sky, blue, big, so wide,

the hills are small lumps undulating


along the bias of the wide

windscreen of this bus.  At dusk


the darkness was sudden, the trees

crawling closer to the damp road


whispering the disquiet of breezes.

So deep inside this land, the twist


of roads, this entanglement of river

and jungle, we arrived at a clearing,


the ground, brilliant white sand

in the moon glow, as if God began


the beach here, then changed his mind,

leaving the shells, dunes and brittle


sand among the chattering trees,

thick-trunked and wide as houses.


In this place, where the rain came

nightly, thundering on the zinc roof


of the mess-hall, we took shelter

under the dripping eaves, and we looked


into the inscrutable dialogue of the night

and poured our stories out, softly, softly.





Peach oil soap in yellow plastic bowls.

You wash for an hour until your skin puckers

and everything is soft on you, rubbery

to touch.  You wipe yourself as if for the first

time, then slip beside him bare as forgiveness.


What makes a man pull you close

after he has waited those hours for you

to wander in off the wet streets, after

the roads have grown silent, and he has

rehearsed his weeping at the news of your death?


How does he whisper love to you,

when you cannot tell if the damp in you

is from the shower, his ministrations

or the leavings of that ghost in the shadows?


You come with tears and trembling,

you come with tears and trembling.





I have been certified – the news is good.

Now I can draw a line for memory’s sake.

Before the rituals of pills, the assurance of dogma

there was little else but to imagine

a woman’s poor self-control, a horny

skettel falling back to old haunts

after each lengthy repentance.


Now I can draw a line for memory’s sake.

Everything has slowed now,

my body has grown fatter – these drugs

make you hungry for the comfort of food –

and the nervous twitch is gone.

I swear the puffiness has eased

in my vagina – no longer am I

that pink assed Barnary monkey

turning up her stuff at all the males

scattered through the savannah.


I have been certified – the news is good.

Call me mad, call the riot in my blood

the chemistry of desire, call it something

that makes me know that the woman

hurtling through the night to find

a man with a dick in his hand,

to kneel so he can push it in,

to wait to hear him sigh his arrival,

to hope he will say love, as if love

is a word he invented for her – I know this

to be pure madness, and I embrace it –

the madness, that is.  I embrace my madness.


Now I draw a line for memory’s sake.

Today I start counting my days.

The trees have shed everything now.

The snow will come next.

I have not forgotten much;

it is just the promise of that line

of hope, that calmer place, that peace

beyond which lies a safer country.



The Courtyard


We found a courtyard in this rented home

here in the outskirts of the city where black birds

line the wires sagging beside unbroken fields

and the concrete has spread like the stony skin

of a man paralyzed by a stroke – so much white

concrete, identical buildings and lives of such

middle class order.  We found this green

courtyard, a hidden thing tucked into the corner

of our home that abuts a forest.  Someone planted

wild flowers and built trestles for grape vines

to grow untamed.  They poured pink marl

swirled into raw concrete in pools on the grass,

pools that never grow hot for the shade of apple

trees, nor too cold in the early thaw, for the dappled

warmth of sunlight filters through the tangle of branches.

Here, we sit at dusk, closed in by the tall fence,

listening to the hum of insects, and we drink

a bottle of simple wine, silently staring

at the way that the rose of the bottle looks

like blood on the wooden table.  It is easy

to forget the squalor of those years beyond

the thick bramble and bushes, beyond the green

of this shelter.  You read your books,

I talk of the genus of roses and the notes

I have been talking about fermenting grapes

and drying fruit; and sometimes, I tell you

of the antique shop at the corner of our lane

where I have secreted in a dark corner

three eighteenth century gardening guides,

hoping one day to slip them away.  We laugh

as if we have already grown old and tender,

as if we have arrived at those years of grace

when all sins have been forgiven, or at least

faded into the wisdom of our now pliant hearts.



Times Seven


The woman coming through the trees

the speckled light of dusk


on her skin, is your love

returning again to be forgiven


with tears in her face;

embrace the broken woman.



*The poems will appear in a new collection, Gome’s Song (Akashic Books, fall 2007)


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 Kwame Dawes


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