By Kwame Dawes
Photos by Andre Lambertson
His voice is licked
but his dreams
are the artillery of words loaded
to uncoil our strength.
The words cluster behind your teeth;
close in, the smooth patina, deep brown,
of your face is alight with the effort:
you, boy, carrying the weight
of an old man; this body of yours
broken again and again by the accident
of your birth. I follow the slow
wave of your thick lashes, you are
counting the words, searching
your heart for the right music—
“Sometimes, I wonder why;
sometimes I wonder if
my mother did this—then I grow
dark, the world swallows light
around me, then I cry—only
sometimes, I cry, and then I laugh,
just like that, in a few seconds,
I laugh and I cry and I dream again.
A drum and incendiary tongues
darting through the low rafters
would be easier—a prophet speaking,
telling us the why of the moving earth,
the rubble of our city; even the priest
with his soft horse eyes, his mouth
moving quickly over my skin, even
that would be easier than this
silence; the dark streets of the city,
the heat in my skin, my mother
praying in the shadows, singing
from deeper than I will ever go;
and when I sing, I know how
to fly, and how to reach where
the water eases the spinning
in my stomach, and this blood
is not my enemy when I sing.”
We leave you in the growing dusk,
the scent of rain is heavy in the air—
somewhere beside the broken palace,
the sky opens up, and the streets
flood—the sound of cataclysms,
so normal now—I imagine you,
like these children, dancing
in the deluge, naked as holiness.
Editor’s Note: This video was produced by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and edited by Robin Bell. The photographs are by Andre Lambertson and the music is by Kevin Simmonds.
To see more of Kwame Dawes’ poems, visit our Poetry Series.
Kwame Dawes is co-director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and the University of South Carolina Arts Institute, where he also teaches as distinguished poet in residence. He also blogs for the Poetry Foundation and serves as programming director for the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place each May in Jamaica.
“Boy in Blue” is part of Dawes’ project with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to examine the earthquake in Haiti through poetry. And in a new reporting collaboration, the NewsHour, USA Today and the Pulitzer Center are exploring life in Haiti a year after the disaster.