back toJacket2
   Jacket 31 — October 2006        link Jacket 31 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

D.S. Marriott

the levees


Far out to sea the storm closing in
And every eye that sees sightless:
Blind the system analysts and managers,
Unable to see the cycles of indecision and neglect;
Blind the relief agencies
Unable to see the worst day begin;
And blind the politicians so close to daylight
All they can see is darkness. All party to the disaster.
All dues-paying when the time to choose is forfeit.
And blind too my own eyes, veiled but pierced,
Unable to see the battering wash of fall
Or the vast expanses finally illuminated
From under ashes into sudden flame.


August 29, Tuesday: It is the second time
The corpse waters have taken them.
It is a time that falls outside of time,
The fragility of all things merging,
Bleeding into one. The quiet of landfall
On the debris-strewn streets; the days thinner now,
Shaped by the downfalls of what is happening
In the neighbourhoods. And no other end
But to bathe in the weight of names,
The mess buried or poured down the throat,
Forcing each voice to change
Stunned speechless by the indifference of the world.
Words on the verge of vertigo
Spewing out in the cold silences
Of what is lost because always remembered.


On that water
From the narrow dwelling
The poor pass reminded
That the damned never end. Bluer
As they trek beyond hope, or language,
Not straying from the paths,
Unable to watch the drowned sink
The dark flesh melting into peeled blue
As angels pass on, turn their backs.

Nameplates rattle in the cans. Neighbours
Search the breaches for army issue. The loss
Life itself wading through
The flawed terms, halted by flood, storm:
The visible darkness of what afloat
Must not be remembered nor the flesh that proffers it,
Above the surface or merging beneath them
Memories of the sure-footed;
The plunge, the clearing,
The chilling spray of shallow pigments, the undried tears.


But not diseased a lifetime ended too
By the union of partition. The dead weaved, entangled,
Swollen by the vast overflowing, at once blacker
Than nature, and undone by creation. This voyage
The cost, rich with nature withheld.
Were the whites to harbour each wake
Turned to leeward, the hold big-bellied,
Filled with merchandise,
The billows serving respect for trade,
Possessed or thrown overboard;
Is this how we are held to account,
Steered by the surcease of endless bluenesses
Our heritage the price, the flooded city the wager,
The smear of fish gall on our victims’ eyes.


And how the heavens threatened,
And how easy the dying seemed, the last
Pockets of air sucked out of every crevice.
We are unmoored, in at the deep end,
Afloat in the poem of the sea. The ocean
Is not the onset of redemption
But of an unconcern too close to hatred. As close
Beside us swim the dead who drowned
And the dead foundered on roofs, police targets.
The storm weathers all the hues
Of helplessness as it mingles the wet skin.
As the injured lie dying, sunk in the eyes of the sea.



D.S. Marriott is the author of Incognegro (Salt Publications, 2006), and two cultural studies, On Black Men (Columbia University Press, 2000) and Haunted Life (Rutgers University Press, 2007). He teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz.