We move up a spine of earth
That bridges the river and the canal.
And where a dying white log, finger-like,
Floating off the bank, claws at the slope,
We stumble, and we laugh.
We slow beneath the moon’s eye;
Near the shine of the river’s blood face,
The canal’s veil of underbrush sweats frost,
And this ancient watery scar retains
The motionless tears of men with troubled spirits.
For like the whole earth,
This land of mine is soaked….
We fall on the grass without a word.
We had run this far from the town.
We had taken the bony course, rocky and narrow,
He leading, I following.
Our breath streams into October
As the wind sucks our sweat and a leaf…
“We have come a long long way, mahn.”
He points over the river
Where it bends west, then east,
And leaves our sight.
“I guess we have,” I pant. “I can hear
My angry muscles talking to my bones.”
And we laugh.
The hood of night is coming.
Up the river, down the river
The sky and night kiss between the wind.
“You know,” Ben says, “this is where
I brought Evelyn….
Look. We sat on that log
And watched a river egret
Till it flew away with the evening.
“But mahn, she is a funny girl, Aiee!
But she looks like me Jamaica woman….
But she asks me all the questions, mahn.
I’m going to miss her mahn, Aiee!
“But I will . . . Ewie. Ewie I love you,
But I do Ewie . . . Ewie . . . ,” he says
And blows a kiss into the wind.
Broken shadows upon the canal
Form and blur, as leaves shudder again…again
“Tell me this, Ben,” I say.
“Do you love American girls?
You know, do most Jamaicans
Understand this country?”
We almost laugh. Our sweat is gone.
He whispers “Aiee” on a long low breath
And we turn full circle to the river,
Our backs to the blind canal.
“But I’m not most Jamaicans….
I’m only Ben, and tomorrow I’ll be gone,
And … Ewie, I love you….
Aiee! My woman, how can I love you?”
Blurred images upon the river
Flow together and we are there….
“What did she ask you?” I say.
“Everything and nothing, maybe.
But I couldn’t tell her all.”
We almost laugh. “‘Cause I
Don’t know it all, mahn.
“Look, see over there….
We walked down from there
Where the park ends
And the canal begins
Where that red shale rock
Down the slope there . . . see?
Sits itself up like a figure,
We first touch our hands . . .
And up floats this log,
Not in the river
But in the canal there
And it’s slimy and old
And I kick it back . . .
And mahn, she does too.
Then she asks me:
‘Bennie, if I cry
When you leave would you
Remember me more?’
Aiee! She’s a natural goddess!
And she asks me:
‘Bennie, when you think of Jamaica
Can you picture me there?’
And while she’s saying this,
She’s reaching for the river
Current like she’s feeling its pulse.
She asks me:
‘Bennie, America means something to you?
Maybe our meeting, our love? has
Something to do with America,
Like the river? Do you know Bennie?’
Aiee, Aiee, mahn I tell you
She might make me marry . . .
Aiee! Ewie, Jamaica . . . moon!
And how can I say anything?
I tell her:
‘Africa, somewhere is Africa.
Do you understand,’ I say to her,
And she look at me with the moon,
And I hear the wind and the leaves
And we do not laugh . . .
We are so close now no wind between us . . .
I say to her:
‘Ewie, I do not know America
Except maybe in my tears….
Maybe when I look out from Jamaica
Sometimes, at the ocean water….
Maybe then I know this country….
But I know that we, we Ewie….
I know that this river goes and goes.
She takes me to the ocean,
The mother of water
And then I am home.’
And she tells me she knows
By the silence in her eyes.
I reach our hands again down
And bathe them in the night current
And I say: ‘Take this river, Ewie….’
Aiee, wind around us, Aiee my God!
Only the night knows how we kiss.”
He stands up.
A raincloud sailing upon a leak, whirs
In the momentary embrace of our memories….
“Let’s run,” I say, “and warm these bones.”
But he trots a bit, then stops,
Looking at his Jamaica sky.
“Let’s run the long road west
Down the river road,” I say,
“And I’ll tell you of my woman….Aiee.”
We laugh, but we stop.
And then, up the spiny ridge
We race through the trees
Like spirited fingers of frosty air.
We move toward some blurred
Mechanical light edged like an egret
And swallowed by the night.
Into this land of mine.
And the wind is cold, a prodding
Finger at our backs.
The still earth. Except for us.
And from behind that ebon cloak,
The moon observes….
And we do not laugh
And we do not cry, And where the land slopes,
We take the river….
But we do not stumble,
We do not laugh,
We do not cry,
And we do not stop….