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Here is the brilliant morning on a fishing boat, this is the dream a dying man has in midwinter, the world covered in light and shadow—he dreams of St. Ann's Bay, of the murmur of soft waves.
The sea is familiar as all dawns are familiar. We walk into them knowing it is our sack of troubles that we spill open to color the sky. But here on the boat, at anchor, apart from the ordinary lull of the easy tide, there is a certain peace.
He cannot know that in six months the weight of locked wool on his shoulders will be lifted, that in the soft gloom of a German chalet in deep January he will anticipate with terror his death, rewriting his theology of eternity, shadowed by the swirling clouds, the bickering sycophants, the friends who will not stop to pray, frightened as they are by the end of the crusade, the last triumphant march through the world's plaza where the faithful Milanese, one hundred thousand strong, stand beatific under the benediction of brutalizing music.
And here he already knows that his last songs convey the weight of a man sitting on the sea, staring out into the slithering metallic green and imagining his words as prayers.
This is the burden a poet must carry with him to the sea, the burden for a truth unfettered by the promise of another morning. The sea is a continuous tomorrow, so unremarkable that it becomes an exquisite now: what a lofty standard of truth it is for a poem.
"This poem could have been called 'The Harrowing of Bob Marley.' On May 11, 1981, Bob Marley died of cancer in Miami soon after arriving there from Bavaria, where he had spent many grueling and cruel months undergoing special 'alternate' care for the disease, led by Josef Issels. It is telling that I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news reached Jamaica. It is a moment that has become something of a recurring motif in my work; and as with all my fruitful inventions, these elegiac retellings come freighted with the stuff of mortality: the sea, art, faith, legacy, and on a good day, hope." —Kwame Dawes
Kwame Dawes is the author most recently of City of Bones: A Testament (Triquarterly Books, 2017). In June, Peepal Tree Press will reissue a special edition of his 1995 epic poem, Prophets, along with a companion text, Kwame Dawes' Prophets: A Reader by Jeremy Poynting. Dawes is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Thanks to Matthew Shenoda, author of Tahrir Suite: Poems(TriQuarterly Books, 2014), who curated Poem-a-Day this month. Read more about Shenoda and our guest editors for the year.
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