Inside Us The Dead Poem by Albert Wendt

Inside Us The Dead

Inside us the dead,
like sweet-honeyed tamarind pods
That will burst in tomorrow's sun,
or plankton fossils in coral
alive at full moon dragging virile tides over coy reefs
into yesterday's lagoons.

1. Polynesians
Inside me the dead
woven into my flesh like the music
of bone flutes:

my polynesian fathers
who escaped the sun's wars, seeking
these islands by prophetic stars,

from the sea's eye like turtles
scuttling to beach their eggs

in fecund sand, smelling
of the seas - the stench of dead
anemone and starfish,

bare of the original vision, burnt
out by storm and paddles slapping

the hurricane waves on, blisters
bursting blood hibiscus
to gangrened wounds salt-stung.

These islands rising at wave's edge -
blue myth brooding in orchid,
fern, and banyan; fearful gods
awaiting birth from blood clot
into stone image and chant -

to bind their wounds, bury
their journey's dead, as I
watching from shadow root, ready
for birth generations after they
dug the first house - posts

and to forget, beside complacent fires
the wild yam harvest safe in store houses -
the reason why they pierced the muscle
of the hurricane into reef's retina,
beyond it the sky's impregnable shell;
and slept, sleep waking to nightmare
of spear and club, their own young -
warriors long-haired with blood
cursed, the shrill cry
of children unborn, sacrificed.

No sanctuary
from the sun-black seed
inside the self's cell -
coral lacerating the promise,
self-inflicted wounds at the altar
of power will not heal.

2. Missionaries
Inside me
the Sky-Piercers terrible as moonlight
in black and winged ships breaking

from the sun's yoke through
the turtle-shell of sky
into these reefs,

miraculous iron barking
the sermon of Light, in search
of souls in the palm-milk child.

My fathers'
gods, whp had found voice
in wood, lizard, and bird,

into the dark like sleek eels
into sanctuary of bleeding coral,

but were exorcised
with silver Cross harnessing
the sun's beauty, burning, burning.

And my fathers, in the pulpit's
shadow bowed, slept
the new sleep, waking to men

of steel hide exuding
a phosphorescent fear, and learnt
to pray the litany of sin -

the Fall
in a woman's thighs,
the papaya feel
of her gift
and phallus
All was sin.
The Kingdom was come in

Calico. Axe. Words
captured in print
like bird footprints
on the white sand
of my breath.
Beads. Tobacco. Knives.
Nails for each palm cross.
Promise of eternity beyond
the reefs of the sun
to be paid for with the foul
bandages of Lazarus.

The new way of the Cross.

3. Traders
Inside my the dead: a German.
my great grandfather, booted
sea-captain in a child's
book, in a schooner ploughing
the fables of Polynesia from
a cold Europe, his glass eye
focused on exploding stars, selling
exorbitant wares for copra
and women. Bearded with luxuriant
dreams of copra fortune
and the 'noble savage', but greying
with each fading horizon -
the next atoll holding only
'thieving natives and toothless
syphilitic women'. Too late
for a fortune, reaped a brood
of 'half-castes' and the fled
for the last atoll and a whisky death.
His crew tossed him to the sharks
and sent home only his blue glass
eye - crystal ball of Europe - which
my grandfather buried under
a palm, a fitting monument
to his father's copra lust.

No prayers
were said for him I hope.
I want to imagine him
an atheist adventurer snakes
into every missionary eden.

My grandfather -
and I can only describe him from
a photograph cobwebbed in my
father's cupboard - died
too of whisky, at thirty-six.
'Tall, dark and handsome' is apt
for him. No glass eye for this hollywood trader marooned.
Arrogant gleam in his eyes
with nowhere to sail
without a ship,
Straight junker nose inhaling
the bitter serenity
of failure,
Thick polynesian lips shaped
for wine, whisky
and fierce infidelities.

White-suited in a cane chair,
the kaiser of whisky come-courting
the camera, in love with Bismarck,
burdened with the failure of Europe,
heir to the cold crystal eye.

4. Maternal myth
My mother, dead since
I was twelve, spider-high.
Memories of her are flamboyant
blooms scattered across
pitted lava fields under
the moon's scaffold, or fish
darting amoung fabulous seaweed.
Escape from the grasp of my tongue,
images shatter into dust
from which myth rises
to elixir air at the rim
of my skin:

In her years
of scarlet ginger flower snaring
bumble-bee, I remember
her lilt fingers
in scent of moon,
my clumsy tongue to butterfly
hymn; my mind, white
as spider lily, to morning
pigeon in tavai, cooing;
eyes to vision of her fatal
human face that knew
the bravery of tears.
She was the fabric of fairy tale,
the golden key to each child's
quest for the giant's castle.

Dead, she walks the miracle
of water-lily stars, more moonbeam
than flesh, the sinnet of myth
I weave into my veins.

5. The ball thrown up
An engineer, inspired like a juggler, derives
his essence from earth's ores. Stone,
iron, lava, salt, fuel to construct
bridges between him nimble feet
and the angels;
a mathematical universe wired
to his computer fingertips,
the planets tick his vision
of designing, the ball thrown
up will not come down.

That's what my brother wanted
to be - feet in iron, head
in the rainbow, rewinding
the moon.

The final time
I saw him, moon pouring up
from the sea, he was side-stepping
into a midnight plane,
albatross guitar round his neck.

With a roar, the silence
scattering, he was winging
off towards temperate sun
and snow, the darkness
falling on all paws
on the tarmac.

'The black dew,' said
my pastor uncle, the pulpit
juggler, at his funeral,
'does not discriminate
between jugglers
and engineers.'

My brother was brought
back from the snow in
an oak box polished to see
your face in, designed
to lock gravity in.

No spider's-web bridge
to rainbow strung,
he had slipped off
an ordinary
highway built
for ordinary mortals,
car buckling in, like
a cannibal flower, to womb
him in
petrol fumes rising -
a cat uncurling to lap
the milk sky,
the wheel spinning
spun the white dew
of prophecy: the ball
coming down
to stone,

mawa tindipa 20 May 2019

i think this poem is so fantastic because it express everything a fomer colony country should express! ! ! ! ! !

1 0 Reply
Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt

Apia, Samoa.
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