Down in the Valley

by Kwame Dawes

On the morning after the news,
                                like a nightmare,
                a litany of tragedies, we will
call this the decade of grand
                and we will know who we are
by the accumulation of our silent
                                                mourning, no one will
                                understand why we all wear
                black, our women in black underthings,
their eyes shadowed with
                                regret, their bodies impatient,
                their tongues sharper with resignation.
Only we will know how.

That morning
                                tears will come easy, why we
will take walks by the bodies
                of water and weep.
                                                On that day
no one will name the sorrow,
                                it will be like a fever
                lingering with no name for it,
                                and a few will
ask themselves why this
                                sorrow, this kind
                of sorrow that you always
knew was coming, but still
                                you were not ready for,
                not in the way to be ready for death.

For others, it is the thing we have
                                waited for, held out
                                                hearts for, not let
                our bodies go for, not allowed
joy to come on us for. We
                                will not call it the
                decade of mourning, for
that would puzzle to distraction
                even the kindest soul.

                                                Still, all we will need
                to do is whisper the names,
the names: Don, Whitney, Etta,
                Michael, Heavy, as if they are a
true lamentation of the
                remarkable wrenching of all
                                we have gained. This is
                the falsehood of death,
                                the myth of endings.

“They have only gone to the village,”
                                says the priest,
                                                shaking out music
from the seeds in the bambooed
                cylinder—and we are all
                                comforted by the thought
                                of crowded villages,
                of bodiless light dancing
between the trees. There is,
                though, no grace
                                in the sorrow after
the tally has been taken, and the tall
                skin-headed man
                                with a bop who undoes his collar
                                                twists open a bottle
of beer, drinks
                                deeply, lighting a cigarette
and inhaling hard,
                the bitter relief
                                of loss.

                                                The sorrow
of a gamble lost, the sorrow
                of hope spilling away
                                from our fingers, spluttering
on the unforgiving floor,
                the end of a season
                                of holding our breaths
                                                in prayer, a season
                of waiting for the shot
to ring out before the wife’s wail.

                                On the morning after, we will
be ordinary again,
                                unremarkable, again,
and able, at last, to speak the truth
                again, to take flight
                                again, to sail again and
                                                again, to be alien
again, to hurl stones from
                                                the edge of the crowd
                again, with no fear
of wounding ourselves,
                again, and again and again.