- Letters to America (An Abecedary) by Fred D'Aguiar
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For Yogita and Anish
“Ah neva seen this before in all ma years.”
Testify, Sis. How we grew accustomed,
Spoiled almost, by decorum, now try
Mosquito larvae cultivating at speed
In standing bodies of water. Pigeons
Flock rooftops, twist, launch, shout
As one, spin sky, turn skulls porous.
Car repair shop drills sing industry.
Tires feel out parking, meters freed.
First horn blare triggers this chorus.
Step up pistons, fire motor mouths,
Say our only worry is our worst fears
Come true. Mosquito straw proboscis
Drinks from my arm, bam! Adios asterisk.
But, really, am I eyeballing an armored truck?
Says one dung beetle to half earthworm,
Who replies, as Gloucester, I see it feelingly.
Who gave those uniforms permission to storm
School car parks, automatics drawn? Finches ask
Robins, who, channeling Auden, whistle —
Bang, bang, Lulu,
Lulu gone ...
The calypso worked its juju
On my digital radio.
Flags at half-mast for this Union.
Taps on trumpets dawn till dusk.
Guides, Scouts, look out for rainbows
Projected on a disused warehouse in LA County.
Clocks throughout the land tell one contiguous time.
Rain and shine stop dead in tracks on borderlines.
Cat asks me if dogs can ever be cool.
After two of my kind pin down one of his
On a front porch until chased off by our rulers.
I open my mouth to spit some piety about
Lions lying down with lambs but only bark
What my genes say I should, ears pulled back.
Do you remember Judas Iscariot? Thirty silver
Pieces and a certain last supper just for this.
A taser for every problem warns the bee
With an empty bonnet, sting for emphasis,
About why one plus one never makes two,
After voting from sea to oil-slicked sea.
Look at her, look at him, hold, kiss babies
In photo ops, all gaga, minus bathtub
Never mind water, in this national soap,
This wait for the next sentence whose weight
“Illegals” carry on shoulders they look over
Nonstop, even in sleep, one eye open,
Breath held when police cruise by,
Car backfire skin jump heartbeat skip,
Day in, day out, glory hallelujah, do I have
A witness as empire zips into bonfire.
For what? To dip wrists in fresh water
From an inverted fountain in a square.
Black lives matter but blue lives matter more. Duh.
Veins, blue, blood, plus or minus, B this or A that.
Epicurus, I find your coin staring up at me
From the bottom of my beer mug, too late
For Troy, for Trayvon. I need a flotation device,
A buoy, Woolf’s lighthouse and single room
Garvey’s Star Line to beam me up Scotty.
Where is yesteryear’s full moon that silvered
Towers and made a midnight lake of the city
Where lovers strolled, hand in hand, one black,
One white, with no mind for anyone and no two
Minds in their business? Gone the way of drones
Whose shadows crossed the moon without trace
On GPS to sow grief in the name of cod, liver, oil.
Spell it out or risk talk stuck in ecofriendly caves.
Black and blue, both, why can’t we, intoned,
Rodney (not Walter), get along? Because,
Because, because (fill in the dots) with your
Trotsky (or Brodsky) and your Marx (Groucho).
Laugh therapy narrows eyes, blocks ears,
Hurts jaws, ribs, merrily, merrily, cha-cha. Cha.
Eek-A-Mouse blasts my buds, as I read
The instruction manual, which says
One thing but leads to another
When I piece it together, finally.
It being the thing I refuse to name.
My nerves, porous as that strainer
I hold over a tilted pot full of spaghetti
In hot water. Pavarotti in the shower,
Malcolm before a cracked mirror,
Gaga at each news item competing
For part Fool. Ornate, abandoned nest
Left in place, in my suburban rafter,
Squirreled from without a note,
Unless feathers could ever be a sign
Of things to come, of what once was.
Face Beckett’s door, imperceptibly ajar.
His stage direction, for how things
Turn out here if this show goes on.
Sir Ian, why reserve your last check
For your flies, before you take the stage?
Because all eyes alight there first.
Mr. Spock, where is the logic in this?
I marvel at comics from my youth
In 4K, LED. Captain, put me ashore.
By which I mean at sea with sirens,
Ears unwaxed, sternum lashed to bow.
What is your name? Kunta. Whip.
Am I not a ... asked Sizwe in Fugard.
You are trans, on loan from genes,
Dust, waves, particles, here, today.
Go-go in la-la land whines craft for art’s saké.
See that chrysalis hanging like a mural.
Should it stop unfolding, hold back
Dues, suspend when wings peel gloves,
Snake free, take flight, remind the greed
In our chi, Che, cha, what turns without
Turning? If you must know, but first,
Shush, write milk in lemon juice on foolscap,
Read by passing over Bunsen. Mercurial
Chemists, we were all Curie. Cooked crack
Ready to pay any price, to find out if love
Could ever be a portion, all you would need,
To spin Mercator a tad faster on whiteout
Poles, match our heart, tap, rat-a-tat burst.
1. Hummingbird feeder needs refill
2. Peel sticker, off window, that says glass
3. Buy T-shirt with directive, mind the gap
4. Sip tea from mug, of civil rights dead
5. Breathe in, sure, but really exhale
6. Note how breeze lifts a whole branch
7. Whose green skirt shows white undies
I mean certain legends about flight that grow up with right minds to help them come to terms with change that may be out of their control.
Lone branch ranges from a curved palm 90 feet over LA’s 1914 craftsman in historic Adams. How flayed branch cruises broadcasts a specific gravity geared to flight of the right kind, slow, bracing, reluctant, noncommittal, inevitable, and resigned to its fate.
Through double-glazing I hear, so I believe, that swoosh of storied capital decline, swish perhaps, almost a whistle, as you wish, much like us as kids with a clasped blade of grass held to our pursed lips for that didgeridoo that was elevator music to us atonal types.
But how can a branch sing if made to move on by wind and rain from where it began, and thought it would end, even if a philosophy spread among shoots of a final sail set for another dimension?
As word of government raids spread through town and university we forwarded emails, Instagrams, and stopped with neighbors in streets to exchange the latest.
Is this time for emergency measures or are we too blind to know what we can feel coming a mile away, where someone who knows someone we know stops for bread, milk, eggs and is grabbed, handcuffed, and carted off to detention? Imagine us as branches dislodged in a sea change helped by soft water. We cling, not to give up on all we know. What for? That fall, we must accept as fate.
Juggernaut ancestors shape-shift cumulus,
March across dull blue grass to bagpipes.
Change bandages on Grandmother.
Amputated right hand she says she feels
Rainy days in Georgetown as a firm handshake
That rattles all 27 phantom bones, makes her shiver.
Grandfather never averts his bifurcated lens
From his Golden Treasury, unless his hanky readies
To catch eyewater at the blurred sight of her.
In a time of airships, of toothpicks operated
Behind hand cover. Whoever you vote for,
(Runs the calypso) the government gets in,
Ting-a-ling-a-ling. Doan tek serious thing
Mek joke, bannoh. WTF. Twin towers got us
Here. Nah, Reagan. Nope, slavery. Try again.
Irony, that republic of deferred action.
Hummingbird smashes into that glass door,
My mother walks absently into it too.
I glance just in time, brake and catch a face
That I look through to my final destination.
K Street in South London? Now?
How? One morning at 6:30
I crossed Blackheath Hill.
On my paper round
Met a scrawny fox halfway
Uphill, down, not sure.
We paused, inhaled each
Other, fox-trotted away,
In a slight panic,
Me thinking tabloid
Headlines, rabid animal
Chases paper kid
On delivery route.
Follow as I buzz myself
Into a tower,
Board elevator, a man
In a suit exits,
With the merest nod.
Climb 8 floors, carry
That fox, and just as I plunge
The folded Mirror
Into letter box,
Door, ajar, flies open, wham!
A very pregnant
Woman, naked, swollen breasts
Blazing redhead, small
Burning bush at crotch,
Fills doorframe, scrambles my head.
She takes one moment
To compute I am
Not her partner, slams door, smack,
In my wide-eyed face.
That moment, as she
Processes me and I her,
Stretches out enough
For me to see her
Shoulder-length, red, flaming curls
And inverted red
Triangle tuft at her crotch,
Bright stretched skin at her
An outie, as though
I crashed at high speed and could
Recall the lead up
Frame by stark frame for
Posterity, mine and hers,
Her child near its term.
The rest of my round
I peer left, right, near distance,
Round bends, for said fox.
I conjure woman,
Pregnant, framed by her threshold,
Here, now, with only
Me, you, these measures,
This emergency, all three,
To foster, connect all.
Lap up 70s Airy Hall, Guyana.
One road in and one road out,
One of everything village,
Caiman, donkey, peacock,
And mad expat Englishman
Footloose and fancy-free
Who we stone with red sand
That crumbles on contact
Grabbed from the roadside
That acts as giant bow,
Strung with two-story house,
Whose Greenheart frame,
Tensed, held all this time.
English pelted for saying,
Down his big burnt nose,
That he was sent here
To rule us half-clad children
That he in his better days
Seeing better times before
Guyana’s famous red rum
Got the better of him,
Helped sow high and low,
And everything between
Our town and country.
Maestro, we played shoots
Planted in one place
Sprouts in disorderly rows,
Up whole feet if you look away
For a spell, all loaded
In one hammock strung
Between rafters in a back room
Empty until harvest
Stuffed paddy from roof
To pillar to post.
Rice husk smell for days.
Rocking chair song and dance
On full moons, donkey-bray
At midday, peacock-scream
Various most afternoons.
Now help bring barefoot
Pale instep, cracked heel, stamping
Englishman back, not to curse,
Stone or ridicule, but to hear
How he would remedy this now
So out of sync with then.
Once more help us
Parse wheat from chaff,
Quantify this voting
Result that tests our gall.
Stepped-on alligator, Uncle
Takes for a log bridge
Until it lifts, shakes, yawns.
Velocity of legs cycling air,
Caiman, not alligator,
Lassoed between two poles,
Fetched back to the house,
Cut loose in a fenced field
For sport for that day,
Lost to me every day since.
I bring it back, steady
Its shine, against this time,
Where I am told one past
Counts most, all others
Must be put down to what
That alligator, jaws open,
Head reared, presents,
Ready to lash with tail,
Charge at anyone
Who takes it for a log.
X marks the spot where
Englishman walks in half
Circles, pumps his bent
Arms as if to fly, cackles
Like a peacock, only to get
The real thing started,
The two in a quarrel thrice
Removed from that magic
Flower duet from Lakmé
By Léo Delibes. Peacock,
Donkey, caiman, village fool,
Be my ally, bring it all,
Cow, moon, dish, spoon.
Yo-Yo Ma follows Eek
On democracy’s Shuffle Play.
Zebra asks me in Queen’s
English peppered with Esperanto
If he be black whiff white stripes
Or white wid black stripes.
I wake with this atonal pair
On the edge of my edginess:
“I do not care, I do not care,
If the Don has on underwear.”
“But don’t you think or worry some,
That his nudity is zero sum?”
“I cannot see for the life of me,
Why that should concern anybody.”
“I fret when all’s said and done,
We leave him be, he has his fun.”
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Fred D'Aguiar is a poet, novelist, playwright, born in London of Guyanese parents and raised in Guyana. He teaches at UCLA and in Callaloo’s Creative Writing Workshop. His sixth poetry collection is Continental Shelf (2011).
Poems By Fred D'Aguiar
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