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Four Poems About Jamaica


Montego Bay, 10:00 P.


A chandelier, a tiara, a hive of lights.

A cruise ship is leaving, the S.


Jesus again, the only ship that comes here.

If I watch the ship go long enough I become the ship.

So rather than leave I look away -- because the sea is a foreign country and I love to travel, but not like a faltering heart set on fire and pushed out to sea not like a birthday cake. 2.

Jamaicans Posing to Be

Illiterate Esther watched me closing a book and asked,

Can you hear from the dead with that box?

God yes.

Today I take pictures.

My subjects are full dress.

My subjects!

As the language I liveby flows through me it carries so much history I'm embarrassed,

I who believe in language and distrust its exact parlor tricks.

Full dress, historical posture, as if they were running for office or these were wedding pictures, since white folks care about weddings.

Somber Ronald, age three.

And Esther, archival, though the dead don't live in boxes and nothing keeps in the heat. 3.

A Hairpin Turn above Reading,

Jamaicafor Russell Banks Here's where the fire truck fell beached on its side, off the road.

So when the fire fell into itself we came down the hill to watch the fire truck get saved.

Only the rich live this high, with a view of the bay, and the rich will be with us forever, though the pump at the base of the mountain burns out and the Socialist party, in power, is sorry.

The rich buy truckloads of water and hire the poor to drive them up.

Water will go uphill if money will go down.

Today there's a goat in the bend, stolid and demure.

She'll move soon: there's nothing to eat in the road.

A cow and two egrets tack into the shadow of a mango.

It's noon.

Above the bay, turkey buzzards sift the thermals.

At dawn they perch and spread their wings to dry, like laundry.

My friends and I are the rich, though the house is rented.

We'll fall away, the goat will loll off the road, the bad clutch in the van will slur but we'll make it up, and we do, heat-steeped, thoughtful, and sleepy. 4.

No photograph does justice, etc., but what does a photograph care for justice?

It wants to be clear, the way an angel need not mean, but be, duty enough for an angel.

No angels here.

Hovels seen from far enough away they look picturesque.

The blatant blue sky so cool in pictures is gritty with heat.

The long day stings.

We squint at the lens.

Though the lines in our faces are engraved by the acids of muscle-habits, not by tears.

Sympathy we have to learn.

Here's a family of three living in a dead car.

The guidebooks warned us away from this, and so we came, ungainly, spreading our understandings of sorrow like wet wings.

We turn and turn, but everywhere is here, a blurred circle of wing scuffs.


William Matthews

William Procter Matthews III (November 11, 1942 – November 12, 1997) was an American poet and essayist.

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