hyphen
 (for Austin ‘Tom’ Clarke 1934 – 2016)

by John R. Lee

John Robert Lee is a Saint Lucian writer. His latest publication is Collected Poems 1975-2015 (Peepal Tree Press, 2017).

To me, it’s really so simple: life should be lived on the edge. You have to exercise rebellion, to refuse to tape yourself to the rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge. Then you will live your life on the tightrope.

—Philippe Petit.

 

I. high wire

the figure in black called his dangerous act a ‘coup’
the press: ‘outrageous’, ‘audacious’, ‘artistic crime of the century’—
I imagine the abyss of New York below his tight-rope

crazy man. The photos disturb
my gut. Angels had to have held him up.
And suppose he had fallen like a demon to the curbs
of Lower Manhattan? Too high for me that science, stupefying
such aerial defiance at the inch-wide edge of the brink —
on the thin wing of his pole, sauntering that stratosphere

indestructible, who scripted 9/11 and all that broke
and fell into itself that day, those girders, those heights,
the falling man, the conflagrated wires, the vaporised ropes?

 

II. hyphen

the black, dread-locked figure of Tom Clarke
crosses the cold, clear span of the hyphen
of Canadian space, striking

out over the white vast of its lakes, plains
diasporic cities and other chasms,
stepping between ziggurats of Babylon

their steel and glass tablets of encrypted racism
negotiating the insistent subtraction of face from nation —
on the fiction of his pole, his arrogance striding those high places

he defies thin thresholds of fear, for Albert Johnson
Emmet Till, Soweto, the charred churches
for Malcolm, Nina Simone, his chattel-house Bajans.

 


John Robert Lee is a Saint Lucian writer. His latest publication is Collected Poems 1975-2015 (Peepal Tree Press, 2017).

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