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.

Kwame Dawes is the author of numerous books of poetry and other books of fiction, criticism, and essays. His most recent collection UnHistory, was co-written with John Kinsella (Peepal Tree Press, UK 2022). Dawes is a George W. Holmes University Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner. He teaches in the Pacific MFA Program and is the Series Editor of the African Poetry Book Series, Director of the African Poetry Book Fund, and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. He is a Chancellor for the Academy of American Poets and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Editor of American Life in Poetry, Kwame Dawes is the winner of the prestigious Windham/Campbell Award for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2022 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.