Please let me know if you enjoy this poem, washed up on my shore: Octopus Ink PDF.
Let Them Hold You
by Asher Blake
Suddenly the warbler stops his singing;
taken like a message under a seal,
her milky thigh inked with a bird,
silent upon the white cliff faces
of her alabster thigh; off somewhere,
like a bird she is gone.
From some perch in the brambles
of the jealous gut
our songbird has flown.
In a swarm of parting,
my hand is nested in barbed wire.
The california highways wind
against the hills which themselves
sift through the sieve of fortune.
They are an armada of gauze
advancing without noise;
that bear silver horns to sound out victory.
They are a world that birds trash in death
but levitate in morning’s glory,
those blue hill bathers
cloaked in shadows, moving
like oars in a shallow sea.
Fullness of knowledge in a seed
so they may sing the entirety
as a cosmos in a seraph wing.
With fury I stamp my bed,
its bull backed hours,
and cast her bra for shelter
over the clockface.
And I tear the package of slavish
heraldry with my teeth,
open my root,
bite at my young manhood
and spill myself like fish eggs on a hook.
In three years I will go homeless
like deer through the city.
Come now you horned night,
black coffee sitting
like a delirious bull in the heat,
full highways will pass back this way
and the melons will be sold again;
and women worn down by sweet desire
make their rugged men drown,
stroking the sea,
freeform in passage;
and my sister
migrating in the West
will appear on the vine,
her grapes wrapped in bitter thorns.
The hills hold her in their lap
a world so flighty and blue
like another sinking navy.
I take my brush of turpentine
and revise the roads that lead away,
erase until my shepherd dog
begins to twitch in sleep,
and I, like Mars on a war field,
reddened with the wealth of the country,
turn and color everything back in.
The Night Drops Carbon
by Asher Blake
The bath of night is a shining pig,
the wicked drive into its teats full of hooch.
There is music forgotten by the musicians;
but they are heavy with milk from the sky.
The night drops on its children
like a weary blessing.
The night falls
like a rubber spider somewhere to force a laugh.
The night is a genie
for an ignoramus.
As the robber dons his dark
clothes quickly so we put the night upon us.
The night only falls
continually before us like a moth
as we speak.
The bath of night bedevils me,
drains between my legs.
She is pockmarked and porcine;
But I have smashed my evening tea set
for the music.
I swell with her like child.
I assume what we all assume, the night
before our births,
exhaling the holy cistern like a stream back into
my mother, or back into thine.
With all the locks of wisdom shaken
loose – hold my hand
or I will plunge into the black sleep
Save me from the night it poses for a mug shot.
Save me from the future already black and white.
I am afraid I’ve read the black book
of night, for now she is naked
and I know her easy lies.
Still I marvel at the salon of women lovers;
how they labor with risen dead girls on their backs.
They swim on and on, as sudden as a flame
or school of fish.
The honeymoon does vex the spinster,
and the spinster intrudes upon their sex.
And the girls who dream
only seem to have good taste,
but tease their long hair
with wavy permanents.
Alpha and Omega, with stars in His punctured hands;
the Lord of sky and soil knotted His bandanna up
to disguise His feathered headdress,
blue and red and white with glory.
Sky is a holy mountain, the Sinai only He can climb,
black spangled in your paisley sigh,
your sunset’s exclamation!
My God has mountains
like darkened domes instead of shoulders!
Have you ever seen the reaping of the foil hat?
Have you ever seen the weakling lower
his head and plow into the Devil?
The Lord in His peaked helmet of night,
bends and plows into us now. Praise Him!
The Lord reigns in the root,
where the sweating neck of the she-earth
gilds the potters green blooming genesis.
A boiled yam is Blackfoot’s nose,
black with a thousand baobabs in it.
The bud of a thousand ages sparks in her,
of duress, of young spring hunger,
and she crackles
like the world beside the broad tan wadi valleys.
Her bark scatters birds; her silence lets them gather.
My girl only rests in anger,
when she lays on me like a wounded soldier.
And her warfare is accomplished
compressed, as a black professor
shining the foundation finds the footing
of the fertile minded students
broken-trunked and torn with
the collected aches of the shifting Texas soil.
She will not lay beside.
She would roll in asphalt in the road.
She is a thing of beauty imprinted with beauty;
the scale of her toes is built
to take the fullness of the field at speed.
The heat of the day her shepherd,
she the soot, the charcoal checkered.
Flies and drowsiness she hates,
but the butterfly air her wild thing, her fuel.
I tell her that the Lord reigns in a hollow,
shadow, our Lord who has stooped to us
from the Beginning,
and waits on an End. King without apostrophes,
Absolute, whose fliers have no cables.
Oh, still and blameless Spirit, caressing the bloody
Tree, thank you for grafting our many saplings,
black foundlings, into your Tree of hosts.
An astrolabe is a mechanism for taking measurements of the stars, it means literally, star taker, and has an elegant circular shape with precision nodes or engravings. This piece speaks to how we face the otherworldliness of Heaven in our (often insufficient) prayers, and by how Earth too can feel otherworldly. This poem fell in my lap as I first listened to a fantastic album by the Nightblooms, Star-Taker.
On my knees I bend my ear so close to
insects, hear the tiny
mechanics of their holy travail
I have feared they entered in,
It is the world I cannot hunt or devour,
by no means overcome,
that balances me in the digital
war-room of its eye.
There are many songs in his dance in the dust
step; four dimensions spill the crackling
energy, just as sperm (and spore/seed,)
can fill a jungle.
Speak on the grinding glacier,
emote the epic course
of victory in a weary warrior’s heart.
Type your prayer, lacking carpet and collection
plate for eucharist, commune with me.
We are as wounded gods, poisoned by
our bite, smoldering creatures
hating to be cast off, but playing
at puppetry ourselves.
Truth to my dog: saying,
the patience is all with her.
Even my beard, fuzzy
ball around my face frustrates me,
but she reclines like a prodigy matured.
Yes, I am taken in my prayers,
I say Sunny, to thrift, to knit
all the little hills we rove,
the rain-rivened, alien hemmed
fields. Like a paper astrolable
I am taken to the contemplation
in my prayers.
They are not even a hill
of beans. My folded hands
are flightless bent-nosed
paper aeroplanes a child throws.
I hold not the power of displacement
in an ant’s possession,
for he exerts all his being
where I have less in this plaster
cut, these closets that cloak me,
offer me a day.
Loss unless the backbone has been ghosted.
I lie along the skirt, the fringe
of a creative mastermind
in common, like a doodle of a cat
on a napkin’s back.
God, turn me over.
Flip me in your hand like the life of Samson.
Seven zones and locks, seven
dams and docks.
If we can heart lie,
how much can we bear the silver sheen
in wing when we glorify.
oh coastland Tropicalia…
loose eyes are helpless.
I hold them with my eyes closed.
Closed by your clinging arms
like jungle vines,
my mouth filled with whatever
you call me, you drive
your jeep swaying
with our friends like wedding canopies
headed to the sea.
Left over microwaves are in the skirts
of the Manhattan girls.
The glass was dropped with ice,
dimpled with flossing ice and gin.
Hills leap at their untilled skin.
A morsel of advice:
his drink and your crushed body
beneath the music
leaves a habit dry, nerves for good.
Rented rooms fueled
with birdseed, with grains
of sun. Their text messages
could have been our text messages.
They culminate in doors, in depth interviews,
and your pregnant aphorisms that began
more often when I left.
The cosmos rubbed the mother
and father of fat,
eden, age, against my sheaths
of hair, shampoos me with its suds,
all over, rinses, yields
me, your woman, fresh words,
tongue, upon your trembling, twining, fingers.
Speak your mind.
What the Heavens can make you’ll see.
The following poem was written by Johnson as a memorial for a 1981 London house fire that took the lives of 13 young people at a party in New Cross, London. There was an outcry because of suspicions of race motivated arson, white indifference, and a police cover up.
New Crass Massakah
by Linton Kwesi Johnson
first di comin
an di goin
in an out af di pawty
an di rubbin
and di rackin to di riddim
and di scankin
an di pawty really swingin
den di crash
an di bang
an di flames staat fit rang
an di smoke
an di people staat fi choke
and di cryin
and di diein in di fyah…
The author here, Linton Kwesi Johnson, is a Jamaican born poet and Reggae/Dub musician. He moved to London around the age of 11 and developed a strong political consciousness as a black youth and immigrant from a former colony. In his verse he brings significant boldness to race issues. Even as a boy he joined the British Black Panthers, and organized a poetry workshop in its ranks. Over the decades he has attained success in England, Europe, and Jamaica, for his writing and recordings.
This poem is remarkable for its even-handedness, skillful change of tone, its gravity, musicality, the immediacy of description, and its tonal and syllabic control. It is like a dub track in reducing the entire experience to a few elements in the palette. Johnson brings effects to mind through smooth and artful cycles. He foregoes attempting to create a full symphony by an arrangement of small aural effects, but does create big effects inside the reader’s mind while remaining technically small. And that is a dub choice. After all, Mozart or Albert King could create a really big dramatic sound with a few notes, but dub riddims keep the modest sound and still make a big impact.
I wrote a poem recently inspired by a dub toast, which is a spoken rap over a dub beat. The speaker though is not a DJ, but a sound engineer, like King Tubby, (pictured above,) or Scientist. This poem I have written is nothing compared to Johnson’s serious work of actual craftsmanship, I include it though hoping it is not worse than nothing at all. Click on this link to read Spinning Chester. Admittedly, the poem does not reflect Jamaican speech patterns, patois or standard, in the street or on the mic. The diction reflects my own sense of song lyric, my own writing style, but it is embroidered on the theme of the dub toast.
(Linton Johnson pictured below.)