Catch a fire

Catch a fire

I’m listening to the Wailers,
Catch a Fire
and I’m thinking: 1973,
where was I, seven years old?

And my father? Thirty-six?
My mother beautiful at thirty-three
in a short floral dress
bright in the stony front yard

of our small new house,
a “community development”
as people are kicked out
shunted east of the Berg River,

the short give
given begrudgingly
to us a people become a buffer
in someone else’s fearful strategy

and as some cruel joke
the place called “New Orleans”.
Perhaps we loved jazz
and we could imagine

ourselves somewhere else.
As I now imagine my parents
there in our lounge, low-lit,
in another time and place.

She in that floral dress,
he in jeans and pointers,
slicked back hair
little darlin’ stir it up…

They’re dancing,
in love in a world that would never be,
would never have been.

What is this dream I have,
at forty-six, listening
to Marley the Rude Boy
with short dreads

in a youth I could never have understood
but by way of the roots music
I came to love in 1980
when we all were all a revolution.

How they might have loved it,
this music of rebellion,
had they known then what I know now
or had they been somewhere else,

my parents, somewhere other
than the world of quietude and inner unrest
in the crimped horizons and hearts
of a people treated as pawns.

I want to hold them to me now
to let them know
how now, this night,
with Marley on the stereo,

how I want them to have been
or how I imagine
they could also have been
me now and then, and them then

also burning
like I did in youth
like I still do
in this broken republic that was once a fervent dream;

the child and the man confused
now become his parents
in an imagined youth
dancing in a rebellion

always already never to have been.

My parents never to see
what they only could dream,
dying instead in testimony
of what the rebels had wrought –

a nightmare of venal dreams.

Here are only broken melancholies:
a dream, ultimately, for a dream,
an ache for an elsewhere of the past
dreamed from the past

where now my parents dance,
they dance,
they… catch a fire
in love with each other

even as inside I know, I know
now my father cries:
he is become a man in a new house
but still on a white man’s terms.


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