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  • Communion, and: The Pine-Tree Sweetens My Body, and: I'll Take You to Africa
  • Cyrus Cassells (bio)


A revering pitcher of milkpoured on a slave's

cool resting-place(even a ghost

needs sustenance),an artful Sea Island slave

christened Jupiterwho festooned his banjo

with crude, blue,cantering horses,

a blinded slave who lived to savorunbossed days.

My chains fell away:that dream.

My chains fell awaywith a Juneteenth glory.


In the midst of bondage,ingenuity,

a deepdown plenty;in the midst of plenty,

a gloriousself-forgetfulness:

time spent with the bold-horsed,at-the-ready banjo

seemed heaven time—replenishing, redeeming,

warming himas thoroughly as hoe-cakes

and the homeplace blueof supper fires;

likewise, in Carolina, a wholedog day morning could be occupied [End Page 79]

with the brusque weddingof a disheveled wheelbarrow

and the windblown applesfrom my grandfather's hardy trees.


Ghostyhead,move-along man,

what is this night cousin to,this lowcountry night?

The onerous passage:the well-deep dark of the hold,

the not-gutted baritonecrying and singing—

eoho, eohoof the man chained next to you—

as if God's Eden-intact fruitwere forever out of reach,

as if solace and dayclean,1have mercy, were impossible:

dark of the holdthick as blackstrap syrup.


Nevertheless, dayclean comes,enlivening, bold as a posse,

with its bufferof buttered cornbread,

of bracing coffee cooledjust-so in a china saucer,

and hurried back to the cup(my Grandfather Frank's habit)—

Sustenance:a shrimp-and-grits pipe dream,

then the real plate, oh my,the real communion.*

As if we could be fed,washed clean, and crowned

with bride-soft shore birds(that dream),

all of our deep-stored wisheswaterborne,

all of our derided people'smyriad night terrors

hushed at last—whip-scars,tears, and chimeras [End Page 80]

of the slave-holding pastdissolved in dayclean's

pennant-clearpromise of resurrection.*

On days of upending hunger,breakspirit days,

able wrought-iron makers, able watermendefer their dreams—

heart, make roomfor the blinded ghosts,

for the breadline men, make roomfor the windfall apples.

The Pine-Tree Sweetens My Body

As pine needles coalescewith bulrush and sweetgrass

to shore a cherishedSea Island basket,

so it seems, the fortifying,peace-granting pines

have been nonchalantlywoven into my days.

Out of childhood, they appear,enmeshing memory:

co-dreamers,immobile shepherds, surely.

From a roving boy'seager vantage,

not as supremeas a giraffe,

oh no,but just as heaven-reaching—

For the inveterate pines, perhaps,the piedmont, the crab-ruled lowcountry

marshes have always beenarresting theatres:

whatever was shouted or gaspedat jubilee, at the silverpoint

of the bridegroom's climaxor the baby's crowning,

they ably cachedin their commanding branches,

so that if I lay my Hardy Boy earto the telltale bark [End Page 81]

(as I did the tobacco-scentedsummer I was nine),

some long-dead singingfrom vanished dooryards—

supper-getting-ready songshummed in pie-cooking heat—

from cabins and heart-stopping fields, is stillensconced in the pine.

I'll Take You to Africa

Daylean:2the telltale marshes

take the last gallivanting goldand giveaway crimson,

and for a brief while,quiet as it's kept,

even the sternest treesseem to curtsy

and be set ablazeby the razzle-dazzle sun's

adieu. After love'sbodacious vowels

and the agile sorceryof dusk-sharing blackbirds,

it's this marriage of sundown huesand marshland shadows

that moves us to speak.High in a lark-haunted,

boy-loved oak,one humming lover

soothes the other'sglistening nape

with a ham-shaped fan,then whispers:

If you wear this ring,I'll take you to Africa.

Two black men together makea dipper-sweet singing,

a jump-the-broom glee.Daylean, daylean:

sun like a wedding caketucked beneath a pillow.

Cyrus Cassells

Cyrus Cassells is the author of four acclaimed books of poetry: The Mud Actor, Soul Make a Path through Shouting, Beautiful Signor, and More Than Peace and Cypresses. His fifth book...


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