A Surveyor’s Journal

By Ishion Hutchinson

For Wilson Harris

I took my name from the aftersky
of a Mesopotamian flood,
birdless as if culture had shed its wings
into a ground vulture on the plain.
Beneath the astral plane, a war-ripped sail,
rigged to its mast a lantern and a girl
who swayed and stared
off where the waves raced backwards.
I begged her in signs. She jumped
overboard, arms sieving seaweed, eyes netting home.

Dear Ivy, you live in my veins.
Spurned flesh, I couldn’t bridle
the weathervane’s shift; it turned and turned
into a landfall, and I, panting panther,
sleek carnivore of the horse-powered limbs,
ran from a reign of terror.
All my despairs in green rain, on leaves
I prayed to the mantis, head wrapped
in white, reading the “Song of God”
over a bowl of beef. Afterwards,
I hemmed into my skin this hymn:

O lemming souls of the mass migration that ended in drowning
O embroidered heart and marigold wrists that brushed the copperbrown field
O cargoes that left the dengue jungles and ended on the yellow fever shores
O compass points that needled the new to the old, stitching meridians into one tense
O reflecting telescope that spied the endangered specimens

Clashing head-brass,
the vertical man vs the horizontal man,
those who lost their surnames
to the sea’s ledger, beached up on the strange coast,
waiting for the Star Liner
to cross that imagined Mesopotamian water,
the ship’s bulwarks in sleep,
weighed down a spirit-bird,
my calm, to never flounder,
to walk holy and light on this land.


The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009

Ishion Hutchinson is a Jamaican poet. His work has appeared in the LA Times Review and the Jamaica Observer.