Burned Down

When the old school house burned,
I was twisting dreads for a woman
from my street,
semi tropic winter barely
coloring our breath,
lips frozen nonetheless.

Later that night, I dreamed of her sweat
and woke with the scents of a cigarette,
of an orange we'd shared, strong
on my fingers that dug for sleep.

The sliver of sky visible
between my mold-eaten curtains
smoldered with an odor of cedar
and flashed, as tinderbox topics
glossed in thick texts
ignited, were spent. Finally

parting curtains in surrender
to the lit sky, I tried to see
the world in its terms,
but it made nothing visible.

Burrowed deep, sleep escaped
me and I couldn't
shake the citrus and tobacco,
couldn't shake the sweat
after night's ash blizzard,
feared the ugly town.

Stray Bullets

Boxing Day night, my cough's exacerbated
by the celebrations outside,
where about an hour ago
my phone shook , telling me two got shot
sometime today, up Rangers Football Club,
submerged in the bay grape-purple wake
cut by the moon on its starboard tack past the island,
and I was struck by the silence of the fearful and of the oblivious
asleep and dreaming off their ale, blameless as their lamb
for their neighborly ignorance,
and I would like to
be one of them: to eye the morning headline
and then flip back to my lifestyle, to slice a pear
and have soft white flesh to meditate on,
and involve only You and eye in its corruption
so that we can both get a little confection,
                                                        but the waving hands
of their drowned corpses
losing oxygen to the indigo pitch
as thunder knocks against cold cottage walls
is our brightest red and green Christmas treat,
a piece of skull and brain caked in the grit and grass
of a temple built for fun and games, a temple of the body
above all, a temple of breathing, shouting bodies
jostling with each other in an all too ancient manner.

High Finance

Someone will have to pay for the innocent blood -
the plasma sprayed over television sets

that hit our children's eyes in graphic detail,
raking up a raft of hidden expenses,

while we spent dark hours in bars and dance halls,
wondering, when trouble went down: why dis fuss?

Bouncers stepped in, and we retreated from questions
to the next iced Cockspur and Coca-Cola,

sweet with Midwest corn and death in India,
never mind the occasional night figure's skulk

to the Hamilton docks, where rusted containers
hid kilos in cargoes of bikes and trainers,

never mind the winding roads back through the parishes
and each night's allotted set of bumper-twisters

money in the pocket for the newspapers
who did their duty, sold copies of the dying

for three pieces of silver, loved by Premier
Swan for keeping the lid on his cabinet.

When the roosters cry out over Somerset,
all bills have long been told, all services rendered

and goods exchanged, even the dealers down gully
tucked in bed and smiling, full bellies heaving slow

with their breathing, another night of freedom
that will lighten into a hot new morning. Easy,

but someone will have to pay for the innocent blood.
That they shed every day. Children, mark my word,

will knife children, will flex, will gun down children
in the sands of back-roads and beach access ways,

because that's how we allowed them to be raised,
by streets while we were preoccupied. Nearly spent,

strict words not enough to prevent the haemorrhage
of our offspring's mental capital, we grasp

for the rod and find it in their possession,
their only settler of balances. Nearly spent,

we are in debts of blood, the depths uncharted,
exponential each slumped youth a lost investment,

and each bail-out a test of our confidence,
a shark set loose to school outside the marketplace.

Chris Astwood is a poet from Somerset village, Bermuda.
He got his BA from Knox College, Galesburg, IL. He is
currently studying for his MA in Creative Writing
(equivalent to an American MFA) at the University of
East Anglia in Norwich, Norfolk, U.K., where he
currently resides.

His poems have appeared in 'Catch', 'The Caribbean Writer',
and the British magazines 'Iota' and 'Other Poetry'.

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