April 18, 2018

Rayon Lennon

HEARD

I am still
Alive so
I move out
Of my doc’s
Cave-like office
And let the sun
Sip tears
From my
Pooling eyes.
I learned
I am
Dying
But all this
Psychic
Pain is nothing
If death will
Erase it.
I am still
Alive so I
Buy Jamaican
Food at
A Jamaican
Restaurant
And savor
The muddy
Sauce
Of the brown
Stew while
Ogling
The sunny
Jamaican
Cashier who
Looks me
Dead in
The eye
And tells
Me love
Is not dead
But on life
Support.
I say
I learned
I am dying
And she laughs
And says good
One. I laugh
Too to keep
The unknown
At bay. Cuddled
Dogs whine
Like babies
To me. I will
Never have babies.
I let that sink
Deep and forget
It. Though
I can’t.
I’m still alive
As I move by
A park teeming
With laughing
Children. The sun
Finds comfort
In a crib of trees.
And suddenly fall
Shines with greater
Focus, wind-carried
Orphaned leaves
Serenade streets.
I like to think
I’m dreaming
But the horn
From a sick car
Brings up
Reality. A young
Woman of about
20 models by.
She doesn’t even
Acknowledge me
And I imagine
That’s how death
Is—a gorgeous
Woman oozing
By without seeing
Me. She’s decked
In super tight
Whitish yoga pants.
Her ass bouncing
Like a basket-
Ball, her hair knocking
On her ass like
A good dribbler. I get
Hard and it makes
Me sad to think
I haven’t made
Love to enough
Angel-faced women
And now I’m on
The edge of leaving
Earth. I may
Attend a brothel,
I chuckle, that’s heaven.
I suddenly believe
In Heaven, a place
Of no worries, but not
Hell, a cruel
Fairytale.
I am still
Alive so I
Hoop it up
With some
Kids. My jump-
Shot is still
Alive and I rain
Threes. The kids
Tackle me
But I cannot
Be stopped
Like death.
At home,
An ancient
Apartment on
Edgewood Ave.,
I make love
To myself
Imagining
Coming
Like leaving this
Pretty awful
World.
Someone once
Said death
Is the ultimate
Orgasm. I am still
Alive so I shower
Slowly, allowing
The massaging
Water to cure
My worries.
I am still alive
So I enter
My wound-red
Sentra to go see
My father, the sky
Is a new version
Of blue. I am
Still alive so
I note how Father
Creaks with a cane
From an accident
With a crane
At work several
Years ago.
Blind in one
Eye, one and a half
Legs, cracked
Ribs. Are you
Okay? I say.
He says, I am
Dying. We are all
Dying. Even
The newborn is
Marching towards
Death. I say,
Who have you
Been reading, Dad?
He laughs. Wind
Nods the trees. He says
He recently
Flew to Jamaica
Where he built
A house overlooking
A sea-big
Woodland. I tell
Him I love him
Even though I know
He’s a womanizer,
Who left me
In Jamaica when
I was born
To marry America.
He once owned two
Wives at once, Mom
In Jamaica, and a cold
Woman in Connecticut.
Plus a woman in
Every parish.
But he’s never felt
Connected because he is
The unwanted
Product of an affair
Between his aunt’s
Hubby and his
Mom. So the father
So the son.
Dad once
Told me life
Is really freaking
Short and the only
Place to find joy
Is in a woman’s smile.
Heaven is a beautiful
Gal, he had said.
Go find you some.
He doesn’t know
What to say. So
I tell him
I love him again,
And he says
Your face
Has always told
Me something
Different.
Not now, I say.
I really love
You, Dad.
What’s wrong?
He says. Nothing,
I say. I say, Thank
You for bringing
Me to America,
A place like
Heaven if you
Want it to be.
I am still alive
So I fly
To Canada
To see
My mom, who
Is anger fighting
Godliness.
She greets
Me at the airport
Dressed in a sunny
Dark green dress. How
Is Trump’s
America? she
Wants to know.
I say, He doesn’t
Take office
Until 2017, Mom.
Her face softens.
I don’t call
Her Mom often.
Son, she says.
I’ve missed
You. Come stay
In Canada for good.
Trees scroll by
Like crumbled
Paper. Her barber
Husband is driving.
His night vision
Is poor, and he nurses
The car along.
I say, I don’t know
About living in Canada.
I have to see
How bad things
Get in the U.S., Ma.
The moon dangles
Like a dying bulb
Over clusters of houses
Followed by wide
Open spaces. I see
More houses than people
In Canada, it seems.
The streets are cleaner
Than a germaphobe’s
Place. But it’s wickedly cold,
Like the air has teeth
That nibbles at your senses.
And there is a silence
Everywhere like light
That never goes out. Mom’s
Condo sits like a nest
Of bricks on a mountain
That looks like the back
Of a dinosaur. I am
Still alive so I head
Out with my step-
Father’s 23-year-old
Son, Rick, who
Is so beautiful
Women look away
When he glides by,
Less they get sucked
Into wanting him. The women
Who look at him
Slither up and beg
Him for directions
And tell him they like
His moon-bright shoes.
He looks like a brown
Brad Pitt. It’s sickening
To think my life has been
This hell because I’m
Not beautiful. As we head
Downtown women throw
Themselves at Rick and all
He does is grin and jerk
His head back to look at
Me to make sure I’m catching
It all. It’s confusing.
I thought women played
Tight to get into. In the mirror
Of the cloud-touching glass
Building I see that my teeth
Are buck and yellow
And that my mother never
Took the time to fetch
Me braces the way she
Never got me glasses
But got glasses for herself.
I could stand to lose
20 pounds. My head is
As round as a deflating
Basketball. The black
People in Canada look
Like they carry a lighter
Weight of racism. The cops
Don’t seem to want to shoot
Everyone. The clean air
Clears my senses. The black
Men stroll with grateful
White women. The black
Women are so gorgeous
They appear like flowers
Somehow sprouting
In the deadly cold.
Rick’s beauty lights
The streets. Pale groups
Of women stop him
To ask him if he’s a movie
Star. I’m still alive so I get
Jealous and tell him
I’ll see him whenever later.
He says, No problem
Mon, in his poor
Jamaican accent.
When I get back
To the condo I see
That Mom has this after-
Cried face, and I ask
Her what’s wrong?
And she says she has
Missed out on my life.
Her face is as soft
As a swamp from bleaching
Creams. She is short
Like a middle schooler
With an unending supply
Of sarcasm and stories
Dug up from our past
Countryside lives
In Jamaica. I tell her
I love her and her face
Hardens into puzzlement.
She locks her
Eyes, and I think
She has been waiting
For me to say that ever
Since I was thirteen
And she left me
For good in Jamaica
So she could
Reunite with her
Deadbeat preacher father
Here in Canada. She unlocks
Her eyes with a smile
As dark comes
On like a comforter.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

[download audio]

__________

Rayon Lennon: “I moonlight as a clinical therapist and in one session last fall I asked a client to write a forgiveness letter to himself; and in another session, I asked the same client to write a forgiveness letter to someone who has hurt him. I wrote my own forgiveness letters as well, which gave birth to this poem. I should also mention that I am a Barrel Child. The phrase ‘Barrel Children’ refers to, in particular, Jamaican children whose parents—compelled by social and economic challenges—choose to leave their children behind in Jamaica to pursue economic opportunities in other countries such as Canada, England, and the United States of America. These parents then send back barrels full of food and clothes and other items to their children. A good many of the children left behind face physiological and psychological challenges. I have devoted my life to correcting this problem. It’s easy to say too that this lightly fictionalized poem was informed by the shock of watching Trump win the election last November and our ensuing crush on Canada. Or that this poem is a meditation on mortality, in general. In some ways, it’s an elegy for the life I could have lived. It’s a letter and a prayer to a God I tend to disappoint but who continues to fill my life with otherworldly blessings; a forgiveness letter to my parents too, who I love dearly, though—for complicated reasons—I don’t believe I’ve ever told them I love them (except in poems). They have done the best they could for me and for that I’m forever grateful. It’s a love letter to New Haven, Connecticut; Hamilton, Canada; and all of Jamaica. And finally, a thank-you letter to and an elegy for Derek Walcott, the towering, Nobel-winning, Caribbean poet and my literary father (though I’ve never met him) who left this world last spring and whose life was, like mine now, an answered prayer.” (web)

Rattle Logo