DEATH: BARON SAMEDI Poem by Kwame Dawes


First your dog dies and you pray
for the Holy Spirit to raise the inept
lump in the sack, but Jesus' name
is no magic charm; sunsets and the
flies are gathering. That is how faith
dies. By dawn you know death;
the way it arrives and then grows
silent. Death wins. So you walk
out to the tangle of thorny weeds behind
the barn; and you coax a black
cat to your fingers. You let it lick
milk and spit from your hand before
you squeeze its neck until it messes
itself, it claws tearing your skin,
its eyes growing into saucers.
A dead cat is light as a live
one and not stiff, not yet. You
grab its tail and fling it as
far as you can. The crows find
it first; by then the stench
of the hog pens hides the canker
of death. Now you know the power
of death, that you have it,
that you can take life in a second
and wake the same the next day.
This is why you can't fear death.
You have seen the broken neck
of a man in a well, you know who
pushed him over the lip of the well,
tumbling down; you know all about
blood on the ground. You know that
a dead dog is a dead cat is a dead
man. Now you look a white man
in the face, talk to him about
cotton prices and the cost of land,
laugh your wide open mouthed laugh
in his face, and he knows one thing
about you: that you know the power
of death, and you will die as easily
as live. This is how a man seizes
what he wants, how a man
turns the world over in dreams,
eats a solid meal and waits
for death to come like nothing,
like the open sky, like light
at early morning. Like a man
in a red pin striped trousers, a black
top hat, a yellow scarf
and a kerchief dipped in eau
de cologne to cut through
the stench coming from his mouth.

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