His daughter gets pregnant and everybody
thinks it’s his, because he’s Sky Beer. He’s never
washed nor combed his hair (he’s mildly
Rastafarian) and lives on a sliver of land
not high enough over the gully. When it rains
he’s always an hour or two away
from being washed away, in his sleep, no less.
Sky and his daughters, Chant, 16, and April,
12, sleep in the same room but never in the same
bed, and Chant’s been pregnant now one
month and Sky hasn’t chugged a beer in three
months because he can’t afford to, so it couldn’t
be his, he could never have done it sober. How he hates
when Sunday rises over the white, grave-gripped
Church of God and all the good Christians ejaculate
from their concrete box houses and stream to church
in sharp black suits and sun-catching white dresses.
He wishes it would rain and stay night forever. God can’t hear
the way the thirsty goats behind the sunny All Age
School weep and bleat at the merciless sun, nor
can He hear Chant and April snoring in the zinc
behind, nor can He see Sky Beer about to jump, all the way
down to the stony dry-season gully and break open
his head like a dry coconut. He’s not afraid of death. Death is
sleep and wake up in his own world. And death isn’t
ugly, death is that leggy browning down
near the cardboard church with HIV, too. Death is Sky Beer
asking Chant who the baby’s father is and her saying nobody
and him wanting to strangle her, but fighting death instead.
He hasn’t had a drink in so long. Now he’s tossing
down Red Stripes and tossing the bottles at the gully;
you ought to see the sounds they make
and don’t make when he hurls them into the deep
heart of the pool just under the bridge down
from the coffee field across from the rich white homes
with satellites and cherry trees. But he could never desert
Jamaica to slave on apple farms abroad to afford satellites
and lengthen his house. No. He will
never do what his mother and father did:
left him a boy with his dying Grandmother to fly
abroad and never returning, neither of them (mother
flew to England to be a nanny and his daddy
flew to Florida to pick oranges and apples.)
Nor will he work for Mr. Sharpe, the snowy Englishman,
in his Ugli factory and not because Sky’s only just over five
feet tall and would have trouble reaching
Uglies, those grainy green-skinned football-sized fruits, hybrid
offspring of tangerines and oranges, are as corrupt as kids
left behind by foreign-going fathers. Who impregnated
Chant when Sky Beer can’t even afford zinc
for his house? Mostly he does work with his tractor
which is parked out near the scarred main road.
He had to buy new zinc for the house when it
washed away last time. His wife, Willi, is gone now,
not dead, but she tramped back to live
with her mother, because he loved
to beat her in the rain so much. Especially
on Sundays to show the Christians crossing
the bridge now how much he doesn’t care
about God. Think about it. In 5,000 years
people are going to look down on us
for believing in heaven and hell. Hell and Heaven is
America, where money grows on farms and the Man
loves to hold you down. He’s not afraid of being
called stupid, undersexed and dangerous; he’s more
afraid of not being who he wants to be while
other people can be who they want to be.
He wants to be God, his own God.
He was born before Jamaica was born.
He knows how England treated Jamaica rotten
over the years before Independence;
a lot of people have forgotten that because look
how Jamaicans kill each other and the gays
in the name of God. Listen to that tractor fucking
up the land over the commons to build a new
missionary church that will kill twilight. He has no trouble
loving another man if love is love.
Sometimes he finds things and brings them
back but people think he’s a thief. Last week
a goat wandered into his kitchen and Sky Beer
marched him back to Monsieur Mather and now
everybody keeps an eye out for him.
There never used to be a barbed wire
fence on one side of him until his now-dead pigs
used to run all over the grounds of the peach All
Age School. Now if there’s a storm
he has to risk cutting off his head going under
the sharp spiky wires or else run up
the narrow path overlooking the high
speeding gully, knowing that one slip
and he’s gone forever. But you want to know
how he got his name. Sky Beer was down in the square
one night. Reggae music pounding. He was drunk
and dancing and then it started to drizzle
and the drizzle tasted like beer and he couldn’t
believe it and so he shouted, “Sky Beer, Sky
Beer,” to everyone but no one believed him
but they all started calling him Sky Beer.
But what does he care? What does he care what
this salty world thinks of him? “Sky Beer, Sky Beer.”
Even the little ones taunt him. He scares them and they
run but the big ones laugh in his eyes. The death of respect
is death. He wants to cut off his dreads but can’t.
His daughters even call him Sky when they are mad.
Who will raise the living from the dead? To jump,
he simply moves closer to the edge, and never
looking down, lets go of his worries, but he doesn’t
die; no, he manages to land on spongy wet sand
and only his ankles radiate with pain. Lying up,
he knows now he can only fall so far. Death is no longer
in love with him. So if he’s not God, then who is?
It’s Chant and April crying over him.
August 16, 2015
[ download audio]
Rayon Lennon: “August 6th was Jamaica’s birthday, the day of its independence. Last weekend there were a flurry of events in Connecticut celebrating Jamaica’s birthday. I went to a cookout. There was music, children playing, adults reminiscing and there was a Rastafarian like the Rasta (named Sky Beer) who lived across my childhood home in Jamaica. Then I went home and read somewhere online that more than 60 percent of Jamaicans would prefer a Jamaica under British rule. This struck me as sad but telling. How many people at that cookout would like Jamaica to be back under British rule? And what would Sky Beer have to say about all this? I wrote this poem to explore those questions and find out how I feel.” ( website)
Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of a project in which poets respond to current events. A poem written within the last week about an event that occurred within the last week will appear every Sunday at Rattle.com. Our only criterion for selection is the quality of the poem, not its editorial position; any opinions expressed are solely those of the poet and do not necessarily reflect those of Rattle’s editors. To read poems from past weeks, visit the Poets Respond page. Interact on our Facebook group. To have a poem considered for next week’s posting, submit it here before midnight Friday PST.