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ISSUE:  Spring 2006

Jamaica, 1996

The storm’s first bullets pit the sand
this side of the wrinkling wave-line; the island,

as I remember it, drums in rain, a barefoot
beach guard hurrying beneath a sheet

of corrugated tin, or the light that followed,
a blush of watery blues and yellows

that drained off past the ocean’s rim. We stalked
the grounds of Point Village: the cobbled walks,

a bonfire smoldering on the bulwark, the tree frog
we never saw but heard above the bug-

filled racket—and that was all I’d known of you,
I thought, a voice like weeping where bamboo

clacked in wind, a wisp of smoke,
torchlight dappling the jetty’s granite blocks.

In Negril we were duped and hustled
for a week, but even there, in the muscled,

blood-veined face of the bauxite mine,
in the coconuts we drank with straws—too green,

lobotomized—something more, some quiver
of a man, of fingers at the strings of your guitar.

You were there in the musk and bustle of the market:
a smell of curried goat, the skin on a bullet-

wood drum, there, later, when the storm spread
like a bruise along the coast, dark clouds

scudding across the smoke-grey chop
of the horizon; I watched a line of raindrops

run the ribs of a palm frond, a far hill suffused
with light. And then came news

of the water strike, week-long and island-wide,
the stench of the backed-up commode.

I have waited too long to credit the flesh,
have hated its inconstancy, how it hastens into ash

and dust, and so I almost missed the Doctor Bird
that day at Tangle River, the way it hovered

above the red bromeliad, dipped its needle beak
into each blossom, and seemed to pluck

the air—before it vanished in the bush—
into a string that shivered through and shook us.



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