- Communion, and: The Pine-Tree Sweetens My Body, and: I'll Take You to Africa
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,
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.
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, eoho—of 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 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...