by Patrick Sylvain
Which one of you slipped into my first breath
and shadowed my steps with invisible wings?
Legba, Aïda & Danbhalah Wédo, Ogoun!
You made my breath a song
like a bird’s first call through its cracked egg.
How many of you placed oil on my forehead
and poured water during my baptism?
I am flesh of flesh and my ancestor’s memories
echo through my first language, a Rada beat.
An ancestral drum summons you to dance
on my tongue and in my heart with invisible wings.
When I was eight, which one of you pressed me against a wall
as the speeding jeep stormed inches away from my body?
My body is now a vessel, and you’ve passed through me
at times, like mists causing my hair to rise, or like fast
moving hot wind prompting dry-spells and heart flashes.
Which one of you rushed to my dreams
with unveiling narratives of a lover’s deceit?
My dreams are your depositories, lucid travelogues
ferrying through time what refuses to be forgotten.
And amidst the emptiness of dark nights, you bring
your blessings and wipe off layers of dust and fog.
Is calling possessing? If so,
which one of you possesses my heart?
I thought I could give away my heart as an eager groom,
but women were yanked from my dwelling as if scared
by ghosts. Teeth grinned for no apparent reason.
I called myself a whore-of-a-man until it was revealed,
my spiritual ancestors beckoned a commitment.
They were like mothers yearning for their child. I yielded.
Swept my altar, waited for the mutation of hearts.
Patrick Sylvain is a poet, writer, social critic, and photographer. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, he is published in several scholarly and creative anthologies and reviews. Sylvain is on faculty at Brown University and is the Shirle Dorothy Robbins Creative Writing Prize Fellow at Brandeis University. Forthcoming publications: Beacon Press (essays, 2019) and Central Square Press (poetry, July 2018).