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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 3, 2018.
About this Poem 

“The first version of this poem was composed as part of a collaboration with the artist Kara Springer in response to the 2015 exhibit The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. John Akomfrah's three-screen essay film on Hall, also titled The Unfinished Conversation, shifted me. Both Hall and the artist Terry Adkins passed away the year before the show opened. This elegy for Hall, one of the great thinkers of our time, is also a Windrush poem in this year of the seventieth anniversary of the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush, emblem of Caribbean post-war migration to Britain, and this year during which members of the Windrush generation are being framed as ‘illegal immigrants’ by the state."
—Christian Campbell

Sculpture With Fragments of Stuart Hall

“I would have gone back,” the voice
full of shells, gravel, liquid washing
stones, back meaning lost island

or calendar, a thing rigged
with bones unbending, unfolding past
the hard symmetry of clocks,

vertebrae of thought moving now
in real time, home a word hollow
as the bone of birds—tody, cling cling,

gaulin, euphonia—“That dream was over.”
Such oneiric geometry, “The Blue Room”
built by Miles, his horn a grail from which

you sup the saudade of marine might-have-been
never-will-be, embouchure unthought,
no better than Vidia for leaving.

So we leave, skein of shadows,
silent psalms for how our scourge
was beauty, home; brightboys fleeing

the estate for another on that other
island, jolted by the freight of shame.
Mas Hall, thanks for the company

on the volte-face voyage, stingy-brim
on which we sailed, migration of monarch butterflies.
Landfall at Port of Avonmouth in a scene

from Hardy, landfall at Tilbury Dock
to step off the caravel in white gloves,
stout ties, leave to remain vagrant.

Lonely Oxonians together,
oak hatch of the Bod we’d shade,
then off to All Souls to cram

for mods, toiling in Codrington
we leaf through Thistlewood.
And so we are marked. Is it Marx

or Douglass with that beard? Bound
to become Judas-Brutus, blood
diamonds paid us in arrears to try

the line of Hopkins, Auden, Eliot, Donne.
Evensong at New Chapel to ease
the medieval weight of failure in the refrain

of white robes, one brown seraph alone:
“O hear us when we cry to Thee
for those in peril on the sea.”

’Gainst the towers most colored I feel,
dear Stuart, in these duds, our hide,
sub fusc aeternum. You grasp browning leaflets

on the stump; O betraying beauty of brown:
bankra, Barbancourt, Venetian ducats, dhalpuri,
khaki, Gauguin. Remember the strange fog a night

on Broad St. as if below Friedrich’s Wanderer?
But, as you taught, who more Wanderer than we,
the evicted on the victor’s turf, playing the past,

loss a force centripetal? All praise
to your mind a sextant, darklit as Diwali.
You bless our kin severance. How I wish

to forget your sister strapped to the sugar mill,
charged with spoiling the color scheme:
sedition. Ah, compay, even leaves of the croton

sprout from our eyes. There is no going back.
Thinking translucence you say, “Bend the stick,”
different than Lenin or United Fruit. The rank of Bombay

mangoes exceeds all migrations. The lignum vitae
insists on itself. Navel string toughens to twine
with the rhizome, portal in the ground.


1932-2014

            —with Kara Springer’s “Repositioned Objects, I,” primer on wood.

Copyright © 2018 by Christian Campbell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Christian Campbell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Christian Campbell

Christian Campbell

Christian Campbell is the author of Running the Dusk (Peepal Tree Press, 2010).