Conjunctions:27 The Archipelago: New Caribbean Writing

Pyramid Chapel
—for Peter Gizzi

It was raining, the clear doze of being
comes back to me, of music in a thatched place—
no music, the globes of light out of step with the music
and below the swiveling dancers
falling in a circle that settles like a coin
the beautiful array unravels
till only a husk is left

Posing for the eye of a book that had sparrows in it
two faces of the same dancer
two faces of the same prospect of doubt

I walk through a door with a table in my pocket
as wood, as metaphor, as everything that leads up to me
the funnel as it flowers to let in the camels
perhaps the first step of music in the crossing
the field of goats, and rocks, and small hills
with goats on them, left to fend and devoured by a tiger
of these things I need not compose a treatise
the wooff of stories, and the warp of logs
other trails from the heads of experts in lore
make their own way upon the trail of the dancers

Posing for the eye of a book that had sparrows in it
the atoms cannot stand still, they swerve
and coalesce, and topple, and make a different
story from the particles of light
names are blossoms falling in a circle
in which we are two, in which we are the one
dwelling in space, adjusting vision, talking
of names on a map: Sligo, Vere, Oxford, Magotty
two faces of the one dancer
and the hills of music eroded like a coin whose face is lost
above the high flat sand of California
a terrible kiss in a dream

All of this ended, and we went back to the garden
hand in hand with steps to the music
ready for the trek cross-country when the garden gives up
with sun at my back that vectors in the particles
below the wings of a pigeon, trapped in flight
like him I am at the wall, my steps mark a perimeter
of solid rock, more than a line of trespass
the river whose names sit on the bottom like the eyes of a fish
at the utmost reach, thick with vines and unwilling
to acquiesce, and leave a clearer space for our walk


You wake me, put me to work, take me home
and feed me from your pot of ox tails—
eating from a pot is something I wanted to do
a cast iron thing squatting in mud, and here it is finally
the eye connected to the mouth, my mouth
not of the great-house but of the small, not of the ship
but of windows where the light, once admitted,
cracks with surfeit of itself
a pause, a frame of white wood onto the yard

“Today opens and closes
never moves and never stops.”

A spit of land on which the words break
and beneath it, the weed patch we walk in
pass and bewilder two sentinel owls in the branches
and make our own way to the clearing

we stand at the edge of the circle
and look at the cost of being outside the circle
the dead bat, old machinery in the grass, a coil of rope
put on a shelf, a handkerchief like sea, and queues
of workers and mules loaded with wealth
destined for the port—

hard to classify this much labour
what’s more, all of this ended long ago
the circle gets big with too much, too many allegories
and the factory still wired for electric light
and burnt crops still burning beside the reservoir
till only the stupid whap of the sea
is audible


The blaze of gun with its teeth of fire
a play ring scratched in the dirt

opens to a funnel as it defines
the exit and fracas of the hour

     the mixing and the power
     the power and the swift

a flash of light on its wing won’t answer to the black
and then it vanishes, the bird is ended

storm cloud begins with the homily
to bare signs in a clinch of fire
a dwelling across a ditch never can be finished
see the bodies are coming
see the caravans of purpose
serial headlines that pour out their grief
how else to say “sun”

the beach house porous in the night wind
and to think of this as part of our speech

take us over the ford, a boy asks the keeper of gaps
of crossing, with rough seas, and wind


If a truck comes with soldiers or melons
with one road in and out


some of them are dancing in a blaze
of double-vowel cities
some sprawl at the door-step
some wear a head-tie of pitch and kerosene
a match struck in a fight
some live where the bees come
to map spaces for standing
or windows onto wind

I seem to see a ceremony of drum
and catch at my own head feeling the drizzle
of liquid down the throat, over my legs
one invigorated morning

I heard it said that this is to be our legacy
these spaces in our head
a forked wheel from a wagon
hitched to a wagon and a mule to haul them both
over the backs of workers in pottery
these are your gifts to me
songs that the young boys drop
like weighted fish-line to the foot of the tree
names are blossoms falling in a circle

and so we come out to the patio
morning glory bush, ixora, cup of gold, jacaranda
everywhere the backs of grasses with some thing to keep


The smoke continued from the killing fields, the noises
were days in advance of the profitable refugees
some were forced to drink piss from a sky hung crowded with silver
they filled up their palms, they turned savage, they protected the routes
everyone arriving at the coast, in time to ship out
—nothing was certain

we had license to speak the words ganja and physis, to drink rum
to dismiss the notions we didn’t invent or put into speech
the Latin heart of the Law, a post of sentries
scattered on the islands, brought in and left—
some others went back to the east

this month, when the sea soft, under an eyelash of palm tree

there was dancing:
puffs of smoke where the ginko tree grows high
in a dark place with a multitude of leaf
a celebration or heaps of the black


Out on the water

out of the salt with the driftwood piling up
the fascinating dream ends, and a storm cloud
comes to our thatched house
looking for its rest—a tray of coffee for the master?—
I go out to meet them, a single mind
peering at creases made by sun and furious wind
and coax them into birds of meaning
which say, “Come back to me
I have a house close to the beach—I have blueprints for a skiff—
and this sea is a text, to be shared by more than one”
and stopped there as the rain began, our syllables

went over the sea wall
chills up our sleeves told us of the far-off mass
the blast of it, and sun mixed in
—we couldn’t get back

And so I found myself, that morning,
sitting with my legs twined up in a body of feathers,
blank-chested, mystified, smelling of old sweat, pronouncing
words with sand in them, awake to the width of the basin, there was a level sea and a wedding of continents,
other things to say to each other

a village with a few seeds left
fertilizer, telegram, logs for the kiln
the cool of the bottle on our tongues

Mark McMorris is a poet, some of whose collections include The Book of Landings (Wesleyan University Press)Entrepôt (Coffee House Press), and The Café at Light (Roof Books). He is a two-time winner of the Contemporary Poetry Series Prize, and has received The Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica.