Awoken by a Caribbean man walking down the street,
rapping the windows open (mid-September),
not making out his words, just his inflection,
his vigorous accent, his fluid conviction.
New World black birds in the background
accompany him with sweet sounds,
with their red-tinged wings—
the wrong season for enticing mates,
maybe discussing politics—yet
seeming to lack the conviction of this man
who is fired up. But then, I listen. And I realize
the birds are aflame too, their tweets only sweet
sounding because their bodies are so slight
—just a few fragile ounces. Some actually
have thundering voices to their moved comrades,
for reggae singers misheard these three little birds,
channeling colonial fury with blood on their wings,
with their critique of the Old World.
And they are shouting at me now to listen
to this man, run out there and embrace him,
before he passes my window and flies away.
—from Elsewhen © Robert Cowan
ROBERT COWAN is a professor and dean at the City University of New York, and volunteer instructor at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. He is the author of two hybrid-genre collections — Elsewhen (Paloma Press, 2019) and Close Apart (Paloma Press, 2018), and three monographs — Solace in Oblivion (Peter Lang, 2020), Teaching Double Negatives (Peter Lang, 2018) and The Indo-German Identification (Camden House, 2010).
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