Two Poems by Lorna Goodison
Lord Plant My Feet On Higher Ground
As the week went on we started to take a minute from shoveling
or unloading something on the hillside to stand and watch
the river, a half-mile below through a husk of cloud and rain.
Tuesday the water came up through the far fenceline. Wednesday
it crept over the pastures. Thursday it sifted through the holly grove,
soaked the lake. The rain didn't stop.
I woke in the middle of the night to hear it
running down the window by my bed. The clothes dryer
in the front hall worked itself away from the wall
turning over our jackets and coveralls.
Friday in the middle of lunch Wayne pulled up in his truck
and said he needed all the young people to come with him-
we clambered in back, jumpy, swapping looks,
did a heifer get a foot stuck in the cattle guard, was a truck stuck
somewhere, whatever you need me to do, Wayne-
The cattle needed to come up from the bottoms.
Drenched and freezing and covered with shit for hours all day
we pushed the animals across ditches and broad new lakes, through gaps in fences,
to chutes into trailers, up roads to dry land-first the stockers,
then Gerald's herd, then Hayes'.
By nightfall up on the hill, cattle grazed driveways and barnyards,
the chicken pasture, the parking lot, the construction site, the grass by my window. The bottoms were waters, flat, dark, with a face, and something
moving over it, maybe the spirit of god, we weren't sure, we didn't know.
Wandering Jew and the Arab Merchant on the Island of Allspice
Lorna Goodison's poetry and fiction have been
widely anthologized and translated into many languages. She is
included in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces,
where she stands alongside Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Derek Walcott,
Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, Alice Munro and Anita Desai among
others. Her earlier volumes of poetry include To Us All Flowers
Are Roses, Tamarind Season, I am Becoming my
Mother and Heartease .
Goodison's poetry brings to life the vitality of Jamaican life and culture, and also confronts readers with her country's painful history of slavery and genocide, tracing the impact of that past on our contemporaries. Like Walcott, Goodison is an accomplished and exhibited painter who creates the covers for her books.
Your Ice Art, Michigan
Across the wide now-primed canvas you paint
with vegetable, mineral, water and oil medium,
there are skeletal groves of charcoal stick trees,
put-to-bed fields and high rise totems which
accept salt sacrifice thrown at their feet. Except
for blocks of primary color barns, your palette
is toned down with frost tempera. When you draw
ribbons of skim-milk rivers, you loop and loop them
till they connect with Superior’s
waters, then burst
into true blue exuberant recognition of source.
Admiration for your perfect composition laid down.
Bands of roads run straight and across, intersect
then part. So effective your ice art that some days
I have no need to favor green. Still, I remain,
expectant witness to your up-from-tomb spring.
The Wandering Jew and the Arab Merchant on the Island of Allspice
Along the road we passed the wandering Jew
in his dark suit, his cart piled with dry goods.
Further along, we sighted the Arab merchant,
his wares rising from his back in a camel hump.
Attar of roses, good for your noses, come to you
from me and Moses. Buy your perfume pressed
from those fragrant rose blossoms of Lebanon.
All the way along the Damascus road, the Jew
has come to sell his things to freed Africans.
The Arab came following the long spice route
to this island of Allspice. Shalom and Salaam
becomes ‘Sallo’ on the tongues
of the Africans.
They were known those days to find themselves,
the Arab and the Jew, in the same free village,
on the same day, peddling their similar wares.
And in the village square they would sit at noon
under the broad shade of old Lignum Vitae trees
and break bread together, unbraid Challah, share
aish or Syrian bread. Aish, ancient name for both
bread and humanity. They’d sit, eat
how some hard-pay Africans do not like to part
with silver, and how they both dread the walk
through cockpit country. The Arab gave the Jew
a chip from the ka’ba to protect
him in the valley
of the shadow. The Jew gave the Arab an amulet
shaped like Moses’ tablet. To the
Africans, they sell
Bibles, then bless Father Abraham, before taking
to hill and gully roads across this island of Allspice.
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