All We Still Carry

for Austin Clarke


by evening we arrive with your alphabets
a hurricane through these neatly pressed
and arranged things
here is a voice, a handkerchief
splitting the road, a government house

here and there you call the dark ones
who mask their storms with hours of work
away from the yard into old airmail envelopes
send and meet them with leathered hands
and what will carry us beyond the sea
ceaseless with what is left to song

left, too, like lances were left, to endlessly break
the silence
of dirt, courtyards and parliaments and places we left,
though we seldom knew the point of leaving, with all,
all the lost habits of remembering our worldlong dead ahead of us

I walk into midnight parting the rootless streets
and corners and rooms filled
with the hard people in those sentences
you sent, still in the brilliant costumes
of your visions,
I appear by the morning

a break, some brimming antiphonies
I would be tempted to say this is
sidelong to history but

you are here and we, too, such irrefutable evidence
now cover our chests with rubber
and repeat, repeat the speeches that haul us into
a peasant’s story with a touch of luxury, or more,
how outside can go inside as the weeds go
with wildness more than anything else wherever they must
and all the electric things stay loving us

sometimes to curse, sometimes to carry
the sea and sun porous behind you
all of the swollen passages unfurl,
as I haul them into midafternoon, one by one,
to speak as though you had delivered me here in the flesh,

in a year like this the thick-thick anguish and sprung-sprung things
adding up . . . like the red in your tie, soft
and throwing doors open again and again,
the loud, bloody bell of your pen
scraping miles through the streets,
as though all that can be said has been said

because all of your letters mark the sand
and the spirits and papers, and the hand measuring years
and words cleave hard line to soft brow
—these exact lingos of the new

disturbing all of the disorders with a music
this, like your portrait here, surprises no one

how these motions make their own weather,
and light up your face on this wall in ink as large and frenzied
as a mother’s sound, as what speaking does to the thing that hears it

is it fitting to make a noise for you that will ring
something bright and something jagged and there
is always more where flightless birds walk into a cloud
as inland sea to rupturing shoal

and if I look upon you, still with questions
it is for a haunting not sainthood
so, I ask you

is my scrutiny a predictable stone
thrown in the old waterways?
Do my own eyes drown me
in an elemental love out here?
Must I want anything of the beaten shrines that know to hold
our dreaming heads wherever you’ve gone?

Forgive the questions. Someone is here with a notebook.
Someone says let’s begin.
Someone follows whoever is waiting at the door. Could be you. Or is it true
you still hold the city wide open to our ‘memberings?

What more can I, a poet of problems, say?
Whatever real thing is here
I hold to my dim pulse
at your likeness up on this wall,
you, left to the wisdoms of paint
you with no knowledge of me; or that I would come
decades into your future wresting something of you
away from a diminishing gumshoe


all the simple things run out of metal here and realign,
where a dirt road is no weapon,
no abstract name for belonging;
here is agony but also dancing
taxing our shoes down to a hot powder

where I put a stone on every book you ever wrote,
their heaps something of the world’s heavy anchor,
the way they convince me to find a coast
and let a wind lift all that we still carry

with the argument of your absence,

I toss the luck that brings me here.

So, Austin: what you doing here in this ole town,
wearing this ole suit, and this ole shoe, singing this ole tune,
welding this old alphabet, in this place full of storm
threatening hurricane, in this ole house,
in this state of finest paint,
in this hurricane:

there’s a gravelly way you’d say some of us are still alive
when others of us die
and now is when to celebrate all we still carry

That is not death

This poem “All We Still Carry” originally appeared in Pandemics Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 245 (2021): 185-188.

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