Arts & Culture / The Reading Room / Vol. 1 No. 2

Banana Boat Moon Selection: Five Poems

Carole Byard Blues Suite

Image Credit: Carole Byard, Blues Suite, 1986, oil. Courtesy of the artist.

Banana Boat Moon

And a hibiscus behind your ear
like the exotically melancholy singer
though you are a mad cap trickster
who changes your birthday from hurricane
time to June 11 on a spring whim
in route to the place
you claim to be born in
it rolls off your tongue
like a song when they ask
in customs
back in the day
when people traveled
in steerage
with island fruits
working the empire
where the sun never set.



The natural history of Jamaica as recorded by scientists of the European enlightenment, among them the founder of The British Museum, includes chronicle

“of the torture of kidnaped Africans,” rival intellectuals and “preferred physicians” among them, enslaved and working for the building of Britain’s collections.

Also among those recordings are songs, the kora like banjo, inscribing
a story of its own.

Despite the narratives of land grabbers there remain some who remember
that neither this earth nor its children can be owned, enclosed, parceled, bought
or sold.


*In conversation with a September 19, 2017 NPR interview with James Delbourgo about his book Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane.


Plantation 2.

“. . . and let them have dominion. . .”


The horse brings its massive bulk to a stop
in the blaring hot sun
miles of bone bleached sand ahead
and behind

The man
in wide brimmed hat and shades
leading him
pulls at the reigns.

The horse does not move.


Plantation 3: On the question of Governance

Ti Jean’s father says he does not know
or care to know who sits in the palace
in port au prince
they do nothing for him
and he owes them nothing
in return

When the earth shakes
when the hurricanes come
it is our neighbors
who will save us.

In any case
if you call the police
they will tell you
they have no gasoline
to drive out to help you
and if they come
the worst for you

when the gunmen came
demanding payment on his land
his son refused them
and they returned
under the cover of dark
and killed him

now he
and his once peaceful neighbors
are armed.

and please do not tell him
about what your doctors say
he says
enjoying his cigarette.


Plantations 4: On the question of Governance

When the Boers ruled the riches
of our land
with the daily
lashes and chains of apartheid
when the white racist government
usurped our very name
denying us history
we said we would
make this place ungovernable
and treated the disease
of their presence
as they do in the west
by setting our own house

Then this one showed us
what perhaps we could not see
in the very creation of the white man
his invention of racial categories
and his violent policing
of their fiction
power concentrated
is poisonous
power diffused
is the abiding
human spirit.

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