Bearing witness – for Mervyn Morris
Monday, October 18, we celebrate Heroes Day in Jamaica. We also have individual heroes and for many of us, they include our parents and a few others. My living Jamaican heroes include: Olive Senior, Eddie Baugh, Mervyn Morris, Kwame Dawes and Safiya Sinclair. The poem below is my tribute to Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris.
It was commissioned for his Poet Laureate Inauguration Ceremony and is included in my second anthology, Kingston Buttercup, Peepal Tree Press, 2016.
You search the water,
examine the life caught in the seine.
The first day you saw him –
the man whose father died
and his mother cried
and her tears were his –
your eyes opened wide.
He conjured a pond
in your exam, long before
you came to know how poetry stands,
travels far, burrows deeply.
His white beard jabbed the corner
before his blue jeans, doctor’s shirt
and the stars in his eyes seized the room,
transfixed by his baritone that dipped to bass
like a bucket, plunged into the depths of Mervyn,
then surfaced with overflowing laughter.
And the class, on the edge, drew near
as he led us down the dark
red lanes of Martin Carter;
sat with us around the Singer sewing machine
of Lorna Goodison’s mother.
He’d used Bay Rum
to clean the Mikey Smith cassette head
so we’d hear the Legba-walking,
dem kill wid a stone on Stony Hill.
Him plug dat radio stuck inna
Jean Binta Breeze head into fi wi,
an’ walk wi on de street wid Oku,
Linton, Muta, wid him butta pan.
An’ when him talk serious ’bout Miss Lou
di class on di edge draw nearer
an’ we peered into de pool.
It was Mervyn Morris who inflicted
the love pangs of John Donne
and W.B. Yeats upon us,
bringing life from the depths of souls
to his class, which was never
contained on the Mona Campus.
He was already Poet Laureate.
His progeny? Many.
So I, manuscript in hand
like generations of others,
negotiate the wet summer, the lush grass,
the paths to Mervyn Morris –
tennis-ball poem bouncer,
Rhodes Scholar, wry quicksilver star-eye,
Don Drummond fan,
generous magic-poem-man –
the fathomless pond.
So, how do you bear witness?
You search the water,
examine the life in the seine,
commit every detail,
then, slip them back in,
roll your world back up to a scroll,
unfold it, breathe, begin.