Ishion Hutchinson

A Small Pantheon

My cousin, born February,
can’t read this apology signed
with two fishes: sorry for feeding you
the poison bread, a Roman deed.
Piscis Austrinus, you will meet
a water-bearer, sent to wash your feet,
she will dry them with her head cloth,
hold you like a mother—be her son,
cousin, so you will never want
for love, or feast, and you will learn
words for your hurt, to no longer
wonder at a coin’s face.
The woodcutter’s wife, sawdust hair.
I remember her footprints entering the grove—
I touched her and the beach shuddered.
I wanted to marry her on the leaves,
but the sky reflected in her eyes,
and I caught the silver glimpse of a far
jet, its engine thundered above the surf’s
breath. She pulled her blouse over her head
and her words splintered finer and finer
in the plane’s curling echo.
Orthodox in daylight, at nightfall
this proselyte was the clean-shaved
emperor of Caesar’s Go-Go Club,
star boy in his shiny shirt. His hands
greased mammoth collection plates
thrust into his face, pinky gold ring
glinting with their bosoms’ sheen.
In the half-shadow, in the scent of burnt
butts, processed hair, rummy lipstick,
an olive-branch sweat branded
his forehead. In the heave of bass-
line, he sunk low in the leather sofa,
ears thudding, a holy flock
of doves in his head.
Seer of stones, madman praising
the sun in treetops, he cursed
the barbwire horizon and the three-wire
poles planted through his bush path.
I passed him there in his squalor,
son of Buzi in Babylon, vines rusting
on his head, two deserts for eyes,
soles parched where he sought salt
from the earth, walking
the full circle of the district.
Power cut nights, I heard his torn
voice from the Pentecostal hills,
singing us to sleep, singing:
when the roll when the roll
when the roll is called up yonder…

Ishion Hutchinson
“A Small Pantheon” is from Far District (Peepal Tree Press, 2010).