Sentinel Poetry (Online) #59 ISSN 1479-425X


Frontpage l Past Issues l Submissions l Home



November 2007 l POETRY


Chris Abani


There are no Names for Red

(From a sequence of 30 poems titled of the same title written in meditation and response to 30 paintings by African-American novelist and painter Percival Everett).





The way desire is a body eroding

into a pile of salt marked by a crown of birds:

and black. This fall is not rain, grain too subtle

for that dissolution. A constellation wrapped

in a stitch spreading like sand charting

thread across time a tender weave

and hope. This is resurrection.






And the sky is red

                And the moon

And light is this rain.



This is all the terror we can bear:


        the moment between flame

and where shadow begins

        but only so much as can be cupped

in a child’s palm


and yet to say: the loved one

        has slipped to ghost.





What attempts survival here has no words

but hunger. A white backcloth that devours

the blackening. Then red cut in lines thick

as paste and obscuring the once figurative.

This desire wears cerements of yellow and sun.

And at the edge of this world, a box of wood

and canvas; light and light and light.






What passes for night here has more to do with the place

where the body is flayed open to sorrow and wonder.

The boy on the bridge drops a feather into a lost river.

A rusting lawn dreams of grass rude and fescue.

A match held down to tobacco still burns with an upward flame.

There is no truth here.

Dutifully the mist comes down the mountain. What else can I tell you?





That woman in a New York café cannot escape what it means

to sound like a Boer. If I were a better man, I would have compassion.

The thing is this: the dead won’t stay buried. Emily said, about the woman

on the bus. She said are you going to the other side?

How easy it is for light reflecting off a polished wood floor to bend into metaphor.

Fire, water and mud. What a curious way to make a body.

Gravity wasn’t the apple to Newton’s head and yet he claims discovery.

But the moment you point to the black dog shivering against the red door

in the relentless rain, you lose it.





Also in other non-intended ways but touching. Canvas

heavy with salt after salt and salt and water,

the brine a knowledge and this sail unannealed like skin

and my grandmother dying, dying in the shower and water

all around her. This is not intended and yet the distance between

almost perfect and complete chaos is a hair’s breath.

Loose strands unravel and follow an idea.

In Berlin there are brass caps, square and green with time,

set into the paving stones that trip you.

You look down and see the names of those taken to the camps.

Stubbing stones they call them. Stolpersteine. And nobody knows

exactly who put them there. Turkish women in black

descend on us like a gaggle of crows. Yes, I said gaggle.

And what is gained? And what is lost?

What begs silence here is beyond even that.






Chris Abani

Frontpage l Previous Page l Next Page



Last updated on 11/11/07 Site copyright Sentinel Poetry Movement. Magazine design & layout by Nnorom Azuonye.

Creative writing & graphics © 2007 The writers and artists. All rights reserved.

Readers since November 11, 2007