Inheritance: A Fragment

Kwame Dawes

for D.W.

I can see the smudge of light colours
Spreading and drying quickly in the sun.
The pulpy paper takes the water colour well,
And this landscape, this cliché of sea
And a fresh beach seems too easy for a poem.
He has written them all, imagined the glitter
And clatter of silver cuirasses, accents
Of crude Genoese sailors, poisoning the air,
The sand feeling for the first shadow of flag
And plumed helmet – this old story of arrival
That stirred him as a boy. Looking out over
The field of green, he peopled the simple island
With the intrigue of blood and heroes, his grey
Eyes searching out a nobler ancestry beyond
The broad laughter and breadfruit-common
Grunts of the fishermen, pickled with rum
And the picong of kaiso,[*] their histories as shallow
As the trace of soil at the beach’s edge
Where crippled corn bushes have sprouted.
That was years ago – he has exhausted
The language of a broken civilisation.
These days he just chips at his epitaph,
A conceit of twilight turning into
A bare and bleak night. He paints, whistling
Sparrow songs and blistering in the sun.

[*] kaiso: a colloquial shortening of ‘calypso’.