Ode to Cousin John
BY RAYMOND ANTROBUS
…land of shades! – William Blake
You all alone in these streets cousin /
every man for they self in this land… -Prodigy
Your voice, a red and white flag,
an over the spread cloth. Slavery
happened long ago, it means
nothing now. I prepare silence,
practise each time for a calm dinner
but you lift a fork, unsettle the territory.
I can’t stop seeing the child
pulled from a home of hissing
and raised by our grandmother
who was endlessly scraping plates
between us. With her gone
something shifts at our table and you
keep sharpening the “somewhere else”
in me. No, I don’t know what it’s like
to live in a small military town
or how you fit where everyone is white
like you. Do you hold up England
by its gilt edges, best china handles?
What secretly stirs your tea? Cousin,
we all alone in these streets. I wish you
horses in rain and fields of broken gates
I wish you a surprise party of sober mothers
holding Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake.
I wish you glistening grapes and radiated rooms.
When we stood shoulder to shoulder
at our grandmother’s funeral I didn’t hear you cry
but I felt your quivering, saw your red, so red face,
fallen flags in your eyes, Cousin, why couldn’t you
let us see what you were burying? Cousin
I wish sunlight on all your darkest fields.