Kwame Dawes

Washing Women, Cathedral and Sky
December 19, 2022 Dawes Kwame



And when deep into the afternoon,
the children, drunk with laughter
and fatigue, have fallen on their backs
and are sleepily gazing into sky
following the slow drift of light clouds,
and the clothes are growing warm
on the rocks, heated to a dark dryness
by the sun; and just when the women know
the men are still a half hour away,
they slip off their sweat-heavy blouses
and brassieres, and soak them in the last
of the soapy water, and begin
to rub fabric on fabric, their bodies
warming against the soft hand
of the afternoon sun, and the gentle
caress of the shadow of the long bridge,
wooden and elegant above the forest,
blessing them like a healer touches
the body of the sick one, waiting
on the side roads, for the shadow
of the saint to touch them darkly
for an instant, for the power to come
upon them, heal them, and fire in them
the grace of love as it roams the world.





I will build a cathedral to dwarf my worries,
the grand arches, free of fine details, or the sculpture
replicating our human worries. The smooth
curses of the black cavern of such imposing
grandeur will consume even the cry of my
lamentation. And when I raise my voice to the heights,
first the echoing returns, doubled and tripled,
and my false enormity will follow the curl
of incense into the dark void above us all.
This crescendo of stone, this elevation
at the shouts of the final dreams,
the revelator speaking in the pure abandon
of the future tense, this noise of stone on stone,
will be the temple so stunning it will
shatter doubt, swallow uncertainty –
so my Amen, will be my so be it, and so be it.





My body has be-sheltered in a house of framed walls;
it has been months, this imprisonment. The storms
arrive and we hide in the basement.
For days after the silence, we remain in the dark
until the last oranges are consumed. This night
of hunger, I dream of the fields beyond the city’s
limit, my dreams are straw-colored and tinged
with the rust-red of dried blood – at least
the way I imagine the sun drying the blood.
Hungry and unsteady we emerge. To the west,
there is the massive mound of a hill, barren,
and yet it slopes so beautifully. There is a broken/
carton on the slope. The sky stretches blue and black
over us. I reach for your hand and you say
“The sky is the roof over us, and God is merciful.

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.