Middle Passage, by Philip Sherlock

Middle Passage
Written for Frank Collymore on his 80th birthday

On the lullaby sea
His black body, starred
With salt water.

Face downwards,
Free and at home
in the gentle salt water
He floats by the razor-sharp reef, looks down
On gardens of branching coral,
On thickets of cup-shaped sponges,
Using the names the fishermen use,
Seafingers and horse sponge,
Elephants ears and mermaids gloves
With jewelled fish at hide-and-seek.
Happy the world of sea and sun,
His black body starred with salt
Sings its way to the waiting sand
And the dancing leaves of the almond tree
And the sea-grapes shade.

Free and at home
He matches his mood
To the luck of the day;
Black body cleaving
The green wave curling,
Sending his laughter
Aloft on the Trades
Flying feel weaving

A pattern of speed
Sea crabs scuttling
Trade winds drumming,
Fierce waves pounding,
Oh free, so free, the little body sings it way
Through the ocean world,
The storm and the thundering shore.

Black son, Black son,
How can I cry
How can I plead
How can I tell
That I cannot come? That I stand
My entry barred,

My entry barred
By fear bred deep within the bone.
Break loose, break loose,
The world is yours
The unity of land and sea.

Locked out I stand
My entry barred
By fear bred deep within the bone,
The stench of ships
Wind-driven tombs that foul the day
The grim patrol
Of ravening sharks, the days routine
Of bodies shovelled from the deck-

The sea, the separating sea,
The sea, the driving wind
That takes me from my living
And my dead

For me
The mountain valleys and the hills
That sheltered those who lived to find
A refuge far from sea and shore,
A home beyond the ocean wave.

Copyright Philip Sherlock 1987

From Our Yard. Jamaican Poetry Since Independence. Jamaica 21 Anthology Series. Edited by Pamela Mordecai.

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