June 2015 Poetry Feature

This month we welcome a poet new to our pages: Colin Channer, whose work will also appear in Issue 10 (Fall 2015).

Mimic

I.

 

From the chopper shot
the beach is a golden border
on a brown-gray shack town,
a jumble on a point,
sweet flourish of Liberia
sweeping into waves.

 

My son and I are watching
this in lamplight from our low
brown armless couch,
iced roibos on the low wood table
where I keep a bowl of beat-up cricket balls,
a wink to where he indirectly comes from,
Makonnen, Brooklyn teenager
with Antillean roots
replanted in Rhode Island,
a state petiter than the country
where my navel string was cut.

 

He’s a boy who loves sketching,
drawing cartoons, eating fish and pasta,
swimming, but most of all
performing accents, likes how
they jokify the mouth.

 

He was born with the ears of a mimic,
a tight connect between what makes a sound
and how to counterfeit it, make it feel
authentic near its place of birth.

 

On screen, the camera jerks
behind an ex-warlord
up chipped-up stairs
to a big slab roof.
Here, he’s questioned by
a pink and meaty hipster,
dude keen to talk to men
who say they ate their foes in war.

 

This one here refers
to chopping wide the backs of children,
mimes reaching in the crack
to pluck a heart,
and munching it before a fight
for blood and courage,
naked at times, or done drag,
boots with wigs and dresses,
amulets and other charms,
the more bizarre
the better hidden.
Spirits can evade
the human eye.

 

Maki echoes all the interviewer’s
LA nasals. I laugh hard.
But when he takes on
a Liberian accent
I do not take it well
although I’m twisted
by the sketch, a poly-vocal
back-and-forth involving riots.
It’s peacetime and we’re at
Monrovia’s first McDonald’s.
Folks are vexed.
The burgers aren’t made
from human flesh.

 

I gently tell him he,
well, we shouldn’t joke too much
about this awful war,
and blah blah on about this country
founded on the coast of Guinea
by ex-chattel,
guide him through the marsh
of history to the present,
leading as a father should a son.

 
 

II.

 

Later, as I pinch out
contact lenses, my own voice
comes blah-blah-ing
from behind the mirror mounted
to the bathroom wall.

 

I smile at Mr. Silly’s talents,
how he switches accents
from Liberian to mine,
hacking vowels,
pitching consonants
precisely in the mouth,
beginning now another improv,
phone calls from police headquarters
in Gbarnga, begging Kingston
for assistance, tips for getting info
out of infants who
despite receiving torture
still refuse to talk.

 

In my bed, on light cotton,
ceiling fan on slow,
I miscue the iPod in the dock.
Callas, not Lee Perry, comes on.
In my head I talk to Maki
and myself.

 

The confessors are clan
to killers on an island
I know. Same nose,
same eyes, same trail of razor
bumping on the shine-
clean cheeks. The nicknames
from the news and movies.
Rambo, bin Laden.
The loafers, designer jeans
and polo shirts worn loose.
How they discuss a slaughter
with ease, by rote,
never as something spectacular,
absurd. And I belong to them,
on two sides, for generations,
by blood.

 

My kinsmen aren’t poets.
They’re cops.

 
 

(From) Fugue in Ten Movements

 

1.

 

(after a painting glimpsed in Narragansett)

 

He’s standing to his ankles
in rough surf, I think,
shirt flapping, cuffs up.

 

I squint into the gap
between the novel and the rock.
He’s vague, small. Set awkward.

 

The rock’s a squat for seagulls.
Some have lifted, broken off
to arc toward the blue pavilion.
Others soar above the swimmers,
scumbling shit.

 

When you left your squad
you didn’t break, Dad.
You were broken. Plainclothes
washed out.

 

Is this where you dallied
while we waited?
Dabbler’s art fair. South County.
Park near a seawall. Lawn
flecked with white tents.

 

Is drunk police and wayward father
          not enough cliché?
I mean, bathers, boarders. Really?
          Gulls!

 

You’re too small in this vision,
I can’t see the way you’re turned.
I’m nearsighted.

 

Your arms align with the horizon.
Are you lifting? Flying back
to us, your black fluff cluster,
your comfort, your rock, your home?

 

I see. You’re faced waveward.
Your back is to the shore.

 

2.

 

The crowd packs up its plastic bowls
of pasta, chips and chicken. SUVs drone
          home.

 

The off-white sand is stamped with heels
          and elbows,
dots of umbrellas, loops cut by coolers
full of Fiji, Bud and Diet Coke.

 

I shuffle on, framing with the iPad,
hunching like I used to
with the Hasselblad
I shot with in the eighties,
new migrant mapping old New York,
roaming, plotting new selves,
organizing through the grid,
shooting roundabouts from balconies,
stooping to the flagstone,
the manhole cover, its studs,
eyeing lugs on Doc Martens
propped
on subway benches
punk and daring,
and skin, so much skin:
scars, dimples, razor bumps,
neck rolls, keloids,
stretch marks, tiger print and zebra,
spackle fat.

 

Toward the water’s edge I stumble
on a crate of Heineken, off-kilter
on a mound between the impress
of a lounger and a chaise.

 

I shoot red stars in close-up, bargain
with matte bottles, thinking
beaded, chilly, definitely,
definitely crisp.

 

Some lanky girls approach me
glinting, each a weizen glass.
Could they have one?
Take ’em.
Do I want one?
No, no . . .

 

I have tastes. I know patterns.
Seen struggle. Too close.
No, no. . .

 

4.

 

Out there, moving north to Narragansett,
a boat implies its presence with its lights.

 

To the side, around a jut, air glimmers
where a trailer park spreads out.

 

I hear a mush of fast talk and giggles,
pup barks, sniggers, yuks.

 

Pop pausing, giving way to old country,
warmblood comfort music riding out at canter,

 

lead voice cry-breaking, drums recalling reggae,
clopping just behind the beat.

 

If I were a ghost I’d float into the revel,
wander through that snubbed encampment,

 

do some good, fix breasts and tickets,
get new tires for trucks, pay debts for meth—

 

all-in thank-you for improvidence,
for joy shared like winnings from the slots.

 

Leftish, at some distance, a burly motorcycle
stutter-clutches, rounds a bend, blurts off.

 

I think I know the song, the strain of it.
I lean my head to filter, pop a contact,
stars go soft one side and I’m half shifted
to my father falling on a curb in Kingston.

 

Now it’s part and also ’75,
steam breeze, market sprawling through
its fences to surrounding streets,
harbor ferry sounding as it leaves,
street vendors with bandannas
eating starchy roots and chicken
from enamel, the brick and steel
Victorian terminus
for Metro Cammell trains,
bodies cramming traffic, seeping off
for bargains in back lanes.

 

And me-him/him-me, now-then/then-now
fore-dreaming in reverse, shifting to the sec
before oncoming coma:

 

street as whirling sky of chinks,
and splintered bottles, copper filings,
orange seeds and cedar dust and
crystallizing piss.

 

6.

 

I don’t have the ken for constellations.
My son Makonnen—he’s fabulous at that.
Can point out Pisces, Hydra, Cetus.
          Easy.
See each graphic printed out.

 

His stargazing looks like blessing.
Pointer dotting every twinkle
as a priest would bless
a blemish on a mule,
a lamb, a ferret,
all creatures,
small and big.

 

He tends to look beyond specifics
into archetypes, has gotten
some instructors worked up.

 

He was born to be a bigwig
in a pagan order, so I’ve teased him.

 

In cave days he was the dude,
that one who saw herds
in the dense night lights,
and night lights mimicked
in the pocked rock walls,
and mixed up blood and pigment
to graffiti on this point
and got pissed because he had
no grunt for imperfect or perspective,
or tools to rub his clumsy pictures off,
the anguishing mythmaker
we echo, and echo, and echo today.

 

9.

 

I can’t decipher constellations.
Moon is all I know.
It is simple, pictographic,
the shield, the wreath, the clock.

 

From this beach here in South County
I see all of them as smudges
next to or behind the
silver wedge.
Sky,
I’m shouting out to you.
Goddammit!
Reveal a fucking mystery.
Show me something.
Reorganize yourself.
Turn simple.
I’m here for answers on this
fortieth anniversary
of the day my father tried to die.

 

Not when he died completely,
when he fell that time he came to town to
find his children after years and years
of living in his country district,
drinking with his brethren southpaw.

 

I went there once, where I think it happened.
Walked along the dirty there near Darling Street,
a sooty place of noise and garbage,
porticos collapsing, zinc roofs downed in rust.

 

Gulls from Kingston Harbour dove in
now and then to pick at pigeons over scrapses.
White cantankerizing gray.

 

It harrowed me to wander round
the places where he staggered
off a bus to get some coins from old friends,
in case he saw his children.

 

The sidewalk was uneven.
I think he might have been attempting to be sober.
Maybe needed two more drinks,
but then his breath, his smell.
Perhaps getting drunker
would have helped him straighten out.

 

I saw him, nervous, tired, jonesing for rum.
Walking how he used to on patrol,
pausing midstride or he would topple,
arms out in case he lost all balance,
riding out a thermal. Hurt bird.

 

He was standing in the street one-legged
when the bus came round the corner
leaning, market baskets piled up on its roof.
There was swerving, braking, shouts,
a weave and then a wiggle
just before the mirror kissed him,
spun him, spun him,
sent him twisting in wobble to the curb
where he froze off his kilter,
arms creaking, trying to rise,
eyes rehearsing coma,
sidewalk spinning up to him,
insides turning over,
world of upside down.

 
 

Colin Channer writes novels, novellas, stories, essays, lists—and lately poems. He was born in Jamaica to a pharmacist and cop. Junot Díaz calls him “one of the Caribbean Diaspora’s finest writers.” His poems have appeared, or will appear shortly, in Prairie SchoonerThe Wolf (UK), The Common, and Black Renaissance Noire. Channer has served as Newhouse Professor in Creative Writing at Wellesley College and Fannie Hurst Writer in Residence at Brandeis University. His many books of prose include the novella The Girl with the Golden Shoes, “a very moving and mesmerizing journey” in the words of Edwidge Danticat. He won the Silver Musgrave Medal in Literature in 2010 and currently lives in Rhode Island.
 
Peepal Tree Press in the UK and Akashic Books in the U.S. will jointly publish his first collection of poetry, Providential, in September 2015. Not since Claude McKay’s Constab Ballads of 1912 has a writer attempted to tackle the unlikely literary figure of the Jamaican policeman. Now, over a century later, Channer draws on his own knowledge of Jamaican culture, on his complex relationship with his father (a Jamaican policeman), and frames these poems within the constantly humane principles of Rasta and reggae. The poems within Providential manage to turn the intricate relationships between a man and his father, a man and his mother, a man and his country, and a man and his children into something akin to grace.

Julia PikeJune 2015 Poetry Feature

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