Poems by Patrick Sylvain, November 2013

November 2013

These poems are based on the sculptures of Jason DeCaires Taylor.


The Weight of Memories

The Atlantic is heavy with memories.
A jungle underworld that dissolves the past
Into salty liquid. What remains bears corrosive
Spots like scales that must be carefully grated
To reveal the harsh history of a pirated people.

We teeter upon the blade of a fin
And tread the weight of a hefty current,
Where gills are slashed open to expose
Guts. White fingers incise, extract souls.
We are born to countries without limbs,
Or adjoined at the hip to an old master.

The ocean cannot be quieted,
Or manipulated for joyful snorkels.
The gurgle below is a new speech,
Articulation through bubbles, fragments
Of tribes bound in merchant vessels.

The Atlantic is an opened tomb,
A gallery of dissolved life tossed
From ships pregnant with human cargo
Or sunken vessels weighted by gold.
The Atlantic is a crime scene.

Remnants of a ghastly trade, ghosts
Roam in the shadow of the shallows.
Bubble foam moves toward the shore
Like mist, scaling rocks, swallowing oars
And polishing the burn of ropes.

The Atlantic is a crime scene.
A jungle underworld that dissolves
The past into salty liquid. Memories
Evaporate with the bubbles of snorkelers
Who forget that paradise is a sunken plantation
And the gurgles below are songs of lament.



Sometimes angels are mutilated,
So men can soar with wings.
It is the addiction of science.
Fiction is the mind’s grace.
Sometimes angels fall like comets
Into our liquid world to cool their grief.
Sometimes I mourn the parched souls
Who hold faith in nickels and gold,
Forgetting that this liquid world is an abode
For angels who are crafting new souls.

Sometimes on clouded nights, angels
Of the dead spiral down like fighter planes
And plunge into a place of no return.
Broken wings, bruised bodies,
They silently sink like destroyed sails,
Never to raise again the veil enshrouding the earth.
Sometimes the ocean undulates like an accordion,
Releasing angels into songs crashing on shores.
It is hard to count the dead in the pelting rain,
And science will never reveal the true angels.


Patrick Sylvain is a poet, writer, and scholar and is a faculty member at Brown University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Additionally, Sylvain is also a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is published in several anthologies, academic journals, books, magazines, and reviews, including Agni, Callaloo, Caribbean Writers, Haiti Noir, Human Architecture: A Sociology Journal, Poets for Haiti, Fixing Haiti and Beyond, The Butterflys Way, Tectonic Shifts, The Best of Beacon Press, and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Recently featured in PBS NewsHour and National Public Radio’s Here and Now and The Story, he is also a contributing editor to the Boston Haitian Reporter.


Related Articles