‘The truth is I’m not /a fist fighter,’ writes Raymond Antrobus, ‘I’m all heart, no technique.’ Readers who fall for this streetwise feint may miss out on the subtle technique – from the pantoum and sestina to dramatic monologue and erasure – of The Perseverance. But this literary debut is all heart, too. Heart plus technique. All delivered in a voice that resists over-simple categorization. As a poet of d/Deaf experience, his verse gestures toward a world beyond sound. As a Jamaican/British poet, he deconstructs the racialized empire of signs from within. Perhaps that slash between verses and signs is where the truth is.
That Boxing Day morning, I would hear the familiar, far-off gowls and
over Keenaghan and Aughanlig
of a pack of beagles, old dogs disinclined to chase a car suddenly quite
themselves, pups coming helter-skelter
across the plowlands with all the chutzpah of veterans
of the trenches, their slate-grays, cinnamons, liver-browns, lemons, rusts,
turning and twisting, unseen, across the fields,
their gowls and gulders turning and twisting after the twists and turns
of the great hare who had just now sauntered into the yard where I stodd
astride my new Raleigh cycle,
his demeanor somewhat louche, somewhat lackadaisical
under the circumstances, what with him standing on tiptoe
as if to mimic me, standing almost as tall as I, looking as if he might for a
himself in my place, thinking better of it, sloping off behind the lorry bed.
It’s cold, for you’ve come out from a warm body
It’s bright, for you’ve come out from a dark body
It’s lonely, for you’ve lost your shadow
Icy, like soil dug out from a flower pot
Sunny, like the sunlight fish stare at beneath the sheet of ice
Hot, like when lips touch a frozen door knob
Cold again, a bulb-like heart is half frozen
Cold again, as if zero is divided by zero
a glass divided by glass
It’s alright, alright
for you’re already dead
The place where you’ve shed yourself, the cold arrived, drained of all the
red from your body
Unshakable birds! (Being followed? Being watched?) Run run but never escape the flutter of wings in your chest.
Demon-faced birds stare daggers from building ledges and at every corner you turn (every corner you turn!) … Twitching birds (nit-crawling catastrophe carriers), Tourettic birds (odious-odious-odious), birds skulking in turrets (Stone-Feathered Gargoyles, your cries for help
just so much sputtering).
Featherless. Hopeless! Overwhelmed with bird urges and the compulsion to tic the compulsion to tic the compulsion …
Are you dreaming? Are you sleeping? (Dormez-vous? Dormez-cheep-cheep …)
I was standin on the steps of City Hall … in all that dust
and I knew that Terry [her husband the Captain of Rescue 11] wd have been
on one of the highest floors that he cd get to … in that building
for that’s what his Company does … and when I saw the building come down
I knew that he had no chance
Sometimes I start to worry that he was afraid … but … knowing him
I think he was completely focussed on the job at hand … sometimes it makes me angry
[she gives here a little laugh of pain]
but I don’t think that he
I think in the back of his mind … he was more concerned about where
I was? and the fact that I was far-enough-away … from the trouble?
But I don’t think that he considered … his not-coming-home
and sometimes that makes me angry … S’almost as if he didn’t choose me …?
But I can’t fault him for that he was doin his job … That’s who he was
and why I loved him so much
So I can’t blame him for that
His friend Tim told me he saw Terry going in and Terry said to him
We may not be seeing each other again
and kissed him on the cheek … and ran … upstairs [into the North Tower]
is the small way to begin.
But I could not.
As I am limited to few
words at command, such as wanblí. This
was how I wanted to begin, with the little
But could not.
Because this wanblí, this eagle
of my imagining is not spotted, bald,
nor even a nest-eagle. It is gold,
though by definition, not ever the great Golden Eagle.
Much as the gold, by no mistake, is not ground-gold,
man-gold or nugget. But here, it is
the gold of light and wing together.
Wings that do not close, but in expanse
angle up so slightly; plunge with muscle
and stout head somewhere between
my uncle, son, father, brother.
But I failed to begin there, with this
expanse. Much as I failed to start
with the great point in question.
There in muscle in high inner flight always
in the plunge we fear for the falling, we buckle to wonder:
What man is expendable?
The bodies are on the beach
And the bodies keep breaking
And the fight is over
But the bodies aren’t dead
And the mayor keeps saying I will bring back the bodies
I will bring back the bodies that were broken
The broken bodies speak slowly
They walk slowly onto a beach that hangs over a fire
Into a fire that hangs over a city
Into a city of immigrants of refugees of dozens of illegal languages
Into a city where every body is a border between one empire and another
I don’t know the name of the police officer who beats me
I don’t know the name of the superintendent who orders the police officer to beat me
l don’t know the name of the diplomat who exchanged my body for oil
I don’t know the name of the governor who exchanged my body for chemicals
The international observers tell me I’m mythological
They tell me my history has been wiped out by history
They look for the barracks but all they see is the lake and its grandeur the flowering
gardens the flourishing beach
The international observers ask me if I remember the bomb that was dropped on my village
They ask me if I remember the torches the camps the ruins
They ask me if I remember the river the birds the ghosts
They say find hope in hopefulness find life in deathlessness
Locate the proper balance between living and grieving
I walk on the lake and hear voices
I hear voices in the sand and wind
I hear guilt and shame in the waves
I have my body when others are missing
I have my hands when others are severed
I hear the children of Chicago singing We live in the blankest of times
Now listen to this: in the obituary they wrote about me
In my lifetime, they said I was so sweet-natured
That they wanted to keep me as a pet.
It makes me ill to hear them drooling
About my loyalty, my affection, my trustworthiness around children.
Tripe! There’s a term for everything alien.
Looks as though time has caught up with me.
And my voice is swimming in the confession:
“I was half zombie, half enfant perdu …”
Perhaps eventually space gulped me down
Where the horizon closes up.
My double can look after me from here on in.
My orneriness is puked out, plus the question:
Do pets have lighter brains?
Let’s go to the park where
the dogs and children
cluster and circle and run
under the sombre old trees – they are
hanging on to their swarthing
leaves – while the young
medallioned trees in the early
sun are dancing
The knapsacked students too
hurtle, always too late, focused
on there, blindingly
swerving out of the now and
here where children and dogs
and a few rather shabby, slow
old ones, straying, move
across the owners, standing with
loose leashes, intent on “their day.”
The benched but sleepless
mothers and nannies, watching,
are quieted here, warmed and fed
by the good old trees and
the shining little ones.
I just want to go back
into the bush and eat
growing wild as she
drops me off at the lumber
mill I’m fifteen and a janitor
cleaning out the urinals
at the debarker I find
pubic hair the lumberjacks
have left long barbs curled
to “put me in my place”
debarker: where they
keep the machine that
cuts the bark away from
the trees years ago my
blood cousin fell in
and emerged skinless
that was before this brain
sprouted from my spine
in an allegory trees
would be distributed
evenly throughout the
narrative in a gesture
of looking back over
my shoulder as mom
pulls away from the
yard I have on a hard
hat that is orange and too
big over my weird bleached
hair I have only the same
rag for the toilets as the
dishes when I look up the
sky is obscured by smoke
I can never tell what