Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Bearing witness – for Mervyn Morris

Published:Saturday | October 16, 2021 | 12:06 AM

Professor Mervin Morris
Professor Mervin 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.

Ann-Margaret Lim

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,

Orange-Street-fire-talking man

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.