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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 11, 2018.
About this Poem 

“This poem could have been called ‘The Harrowing of Bob Marley.’ On May 11, 1981, Bob Marley died of cancer in Miami soon after arriving there from Bavaria, where he had spent many grueling and cruel months undergoing special ‘alternate’ care for the disease, led by Josef Issels. It is telling that I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news reached Jamaica. It is a moment that has become something of a recurring motif in my work; and as with all my fruitful inventions, these elegiac retellings come freighted with the stuff of mortality: the sea, art, faith, legacy, and on a good day, hope.”
—Kwame Dawes

At Anchor: The Real Situation

                 for Bob Marley, Bavaria, November 1980
 
Here is the brilliant morning on a fishing boat,
this is the dream a dying man has in midwinter,
the world covered in light and shadow—he dreams
of St. Ann’s Bay, of the murmur of soft waves.
 
The sea is familiar as all dawns are familiar.
We walk into them knowing it is our sack
of troubles that we spill open to color
the sky. But here on the boat, at anchor,
apart from the ordinary lull of the easy
tide, there is a certain peace. 
 
He cannot know that in six months 
the weight of locked wool on his shoulders 
will be lifted, that in the soft gloom of a German 
chalet in deep January he will anticipate with terror 
his death, rewriting his theology of eternity, shadowed
by the swirling clouds, the bickering sycophants,
the friends who will not stop to pray, frightened 
as they are by the end of the crusade, the last 
triumphant march through the world’s plaza where
the faithful Milanese, one hundred thousand strong,
stand beatific under the benediction of brutalizing music.
 
And here he already knows that his last songs
convey the weight of a man sitting on the sea,
staring out into the slithering metallic green 
and imagining his words as prayers. 
 
This is the burden a poet must carry with him 
to the sea, the burden for a truth unfettered 
by the promise of another morning. The sea
is a continuous tomorrow, so unremarkable
that it becomes an exquisite now: 
what a lofty standard of truth it is for a poem.

Copyright © 2018 by Kwame Dawes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Kwame Dawes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes was born in Ghana and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. The author of more than ten poetry collections, he currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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for Gabriel García Márquez

To tell it, I must call it a dream.

A dream on the Caribbean coast of Colombia
where a beautiful black man serves
thick omelets messy with onions and mushrooms
to an assortment of mavericks—dock workers,
professors, maids, three police officers,

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A truckload of fresh watermelons, 
lemon-green goodness on a slouching 
truck, cutting through so many states: 
Arkansas, West Virginia, Maryland, 
into the smoke-heavy Pennsylvania cities; 
from red dirt like a land soaked 
in blood to the dark loam of this new 
land—from chaos

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for Soloman Ephraim Woolfe

Son, who is dat?
Is de African Postman, Daddy

—Burning Spear

East from Addis Ababa, and then south
deep into the Rift Valley, I can hear the horns
trumpeting over the