Kwame Dawes

Bodies on the Margins
July 25, 2020 Dawes Kwame


The artist understands blood; or rather
the bloodlines. There was a synagogue
in the swelter, the dust from the yard
would make a film over the stained
wood—soon the rabbi gave up on the rugs—
the woman from the Baptist Church
broke the vacuum, and the broom
could not reach deep enough
to pull out the insinuation of dirt.
People said it was as it was
in the desert. The artist thinks
he was a child then, but he
suspects this, too, is a dream.
In the city, there is a strange
soundtrack to his pilgrimage
through the park at dawn;
he has wished for the pain

of a knife in his gut, the trauma
of a mugging—he has waited
like a person hungry for a cause.
This generation is jealous
of those who wear their tattoo
of suffering as a badge, a shield,
a kind of passport to dignity.
In his dreams, in his dreams
there are trees, there is bush, sky.
In his dream there are no bodies.
This is the lie he tells those
who come to the gallery—

and it is the lie he tells again
while they stand consumed
by his massive canvasses
in the studio. The bodies are
on the edges; standing there,
dark, wounded, broken. He does
not want them to consume
his wounds with their deep-
throated songs of lament.

My name is Kwame Dawes. I have published many volumes of poetry.  Most recently, my collection Nebraska, appeared with the University of Nebraska Press.  I am editor of the literary journal, Prairie Schooner, and I direct the African Poetry Book Fund.  I live and work in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I am Chancellor’s Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner. I am grateful for the awards and recognitions I have received over the years for my art and my service to the arts.