Rebirth (Patrick Sylvain)

For Grandpa F.P.

I am dancing with faltering steps in a consuming
Land of spiked honey. My flight to the carousel
Of possibilities brought tears to my grandfather’s
Angry eyes. His ancestral land confiscated, stripped
And hauled for bauxite. Now, an eroded site.
An unknown great-uncle buried with lead in the guts.
What am I to do when my land grimaces
And the breath of hell propels people onto paper boats?

I have taken permanent residency
In a carnival land of possibilities
Where hooded masquerades are celebrated
With fireworks. Burnt flesh in a photograph
Hung in faded memories. Cotton, picked,
Meshed, fabricated into white cloths
By Fulani and Hausa descendants, hung.
I am hanging in the salon of verses
Where history shadows are translated
Into pastoral stanzas, burying vocal couplets
That divulged the strange fruits of Southern poles:
Poplar, popular, bulging eyes. Hanging.

I have taken permanent residency
In a land of orange agents clad
In Samish suits tailored for an Uncle
Who wears a maniacal monocle.
His gaze envisions an ecosystem
Of Stars and Stripes stripping roots
Of robust mahoganies and cotton-silk wood
Without stubborn fire brushes so progenies
Could transform into Quasimodos
Dreaming of winged-angels and celestial bells.

Hell, an ironclad lung for those whose spines
Scaffolded the land. I closed my eyes
And dreamt of Moses reborn with the blood of Thor.
Possibility is the narrative of possibilities.
I caught the thunder’s whims in a land of dreams.
My grandfather, buried with stubborn eyes,
Never read my lines, compressed in the mind’s crevices.

I flew on a metallic eagle’s wings with fears
Tucked into a blue suitcase. No regrets, just
The trepidation of time and tales of violence
Cleaving capricious hopes. My mother, counting time
To re-unite, secretly seeded a new crop into
My unquiet heart. She did not know that the vestiges
Of memories would converge into verses, a new genesis.

I flew into a carnival land of possibilities
And took permanent residency with parchment,
So memories like collagen can melt onto surfaces.
I embrace the noesis of my mother’s dreams.
My grandfather’s bones are dust, despite residues,
His gaze still locked upon my steps I spun onto
The carousel, a go-round that can make merry,
Or regurgitate certain syntaxes into oblivion.


Patrick Sylvain is a poet, social and literary critic, translator, and photographer. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is published in several anthologies, academic journals, books, magazines and reviews including: African American Review, Agni, American Poetry Review, Anchor Magazine, Callaloo, Caribbean Writers, Anchor Magazine, Chicago Quarterly Review, Magma Poetry, Spoke Literary Journal, Tint Journal, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, SX Salon, International Journal of Language and Literature, The Journal of Haitian Studies, Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America, Massachusetts Review, and Ploughshares. Sylvain has degrees from the University of Massachusetts (B.A.), Harvard University (Ed.M.), and Boston University (MFA). Sylvain is on faculty at Brown University’s Africana Studies. Sylvain is also the Shirle Dorothy Robbins Creative Writing Prize Fellow, as well as a 2019-20 Evan Frankel Fellow at Brandeis University where he is a PhD candidate. Sylvain’s poetry chapbook, Underworlds, is published by Central Square Press (2018). He has been featured in: PBS NewsHour, NPR’s Here and Now, The Story, and Throughline; and was a contributing editor to the Boston Haitian Reporter. Sylvain is the lead author of the forthcoming book, Education Across Borders: Immigration, Race, and Identity in the Classroom, to be published by Beacon Press (Fall 2020).