Poem for a Tuesday — “Requiem” by Kwame Dawes

“I sing requiem
for the dead, caught in that
mercantilistic madness.

We have not built lasting
monuments of severe stone
facing the sea, the watery tomb,

so I call these songs
shrines of remembrance
where faithful descendants

may stand and watch the smoke
curl into the sky
in memory of those

devoured by the cold Atlantic.
In every blues I hear
riding the dank swamp

I see the bones
picked clean in the belly
of the implacable sea.

Do not tell me
it is not right to lament,
do not tell me it is tired.

If we don’t, who will
recall in requiem
the scattering of my tribe?

In every reggae chant
stepping proud against Babylon
I hear a blue note

of lament, sweet requiem
for the countless dead,
skanking feet among shell,

coral, rainbow adze,
webbed feet, making as if

to lift, soar, fly into new days.”

from Requiem by Kwame Dawes, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1996.

Poet, professor, and Pulitzer Prize winner Kwame Dawes was born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica. Dawes’s work in reporting on the HIV AIDS crisis in Haiti after the earthquake for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting won the National Press Club Joan Friedenberg Award for Online Journalism. He says that his spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music is a central influence in his poetry. He is a foremost scholar of the work of Bob Marley. Dawes is the Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska.

Photo by Blaque X on

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