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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.

by this poet

poem

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

poem

Something like forty runs to pile up in fifteen overs
with the sun round like power over the compound.
I prayed like hell out there on the boundary

far from the scorers talking Test cricket as if this game
was another day in the sun. I prayed like hell.
I had made something like twenty –

poem

I got one part of it. Sell them watermelons and get me another part. Get Bernice to sell that piano and I’ll have the third part.
—August Wilson

We who gave, owned nothing,
learned the value of dirt, how
a man or a woman can stand
among the unruly growth,