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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 2, 2017.
About this Poem 

“Rocksteady is one of the great sounds Jamaica has exhaled. It’s a mist between ’70s reggae and ’60s ska. It’s doo-wop, Motown, and Stax all stacked akimbo in a way that gives edge. The sound of a people finding voice while testing the limits of the world.”

—Ishion Hutchinson

Rocksteady

for Colin Channer

For these cramped fragments of Thomas,
           stir: ‘I had never loved England,’ and stir:
           ‘I had loved it foolishly,’ stir, transmuted:
           ‘like a slave, not having realized it was not mine.’

Ah, there, saint, captive, the sentinel is at the door,
            beating upon the bulwark of its silence.
            I, a late remnant in that still, unceasing circuit
            scaling down the dock, I am a mystery among faces, know

injustice and illusion, and laughter
           that is silver lashing, lashing the hummingbird
           in the breeze. I know something drastic is
           waiting release, some instrument to measure,

in one stroke, paradise, and when it strikes again,
           emptiness, the city gripped with emptiness.

It is happening, right here, as you see, in syntax;
          my circadian fortress is pitching me. Rocksteady. 

And because our enmity is strong and our love
          is strong, they bring us together, divided:
          fire into fire: first, sea; and of sea, cane;
          the lasting enmity, faithless and haunting.

The mass and strength of our love, the blades
          of our imagined empathy, our compassion,
          crossed from an abridged womb, the sea;

wind lifts the balance sheets of the dead, unbalanced;
          names are fluttering against the divided sun.
          I look up on what’s mine and not, nettled
          first in literature, now drained to a grey core:

‘the worlds whole sap is sunke,’ utterly dry.
          Progress at rest, resting of a vacant peace,
          after four centuries, laden with perish

and gain. Everywhere touched by the rain,
          ending, a ‘work that’s finished to our hands.’ Rocksteady.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Ishion Hutchinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Ishion Hutchinson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 2, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ishion Hutchinson

Ishion Hutchinson

Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the author of House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016).

by this poet

poem

The old trees shake out medals at midday
to the ship paused for a meteor’s blunting
glimpse in the windy yellow of the water,

partway to inventing another world.
Through the window’s tiger slats,
the bakery pumps smoke, years between

her irretrievable shawl, which crimsons
what

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