Joe O’Neill. Formerly a professor of literature at Universidad de Puerto Rico, for the past 30 years an IT exec, Joe resides in Long Bay, Tortola (BVI) and Reston, Virginia (USA). His poems have appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Moko, Litbreak, The Journal of Caribbean Literatures, and Where I See the Sun: Contemporary Poetry of the Virgin Islands.
Jackets draped on other, older headstones,
their sun glanced sweat veined cheekbones
glinting, two swaying neck-tied churchmen
slice silver-tongued shovels into disinterred
shell and coral, in crisp staccato a tick or so
laggard to the surf’s more measured unfurling,
and sling it into the fresh cut grave, tumbled
sums tallied in smothered drumbeat below.
Along the blistered wall, in work song tempo,
the Methodist Ladies’ Choir inhales and – in
wave upon wave of ever more deep-throated
groan – exhales its ancient, muscular tidings,
bids us empty ourselves to his. In the swelter
of the shelterless day, his spirit abides, walks
us toward the line of cars, strides once more
the mahogany corridors where he and his cadre
imagined nationhood to life, then scuds along
the cordillera, down Zion Hill Road to Capoons.
There, in seagrape shadow, a small island sloop
awaits. Sails snapping for a breeze, starlit course
set for Anegada, his final passage home begins.
Dusk, beyond the beltway. If not for the narrow back roads —
Colt’s Neck, Appaloosa, Thoroughbred – their blacktop hides
steaming — we’d have missed the call to paddock, a Q & A
with glossy-maned authenticity. Taking the stage, however,
mien academic, hair a lackluster bun, it’s as if her minder’s
just whispered This ain’t, you know, Manhattan in her ear.
An actor in the audience asks how she so fully inhabits each role.
The stiffness falls away. Be honest, she says, be strong, even
be wrong, and lengthening stride describes how in the São Paulo
production of Hair and still a teen her sudden nakedness so
sharply cleft her grandfather’s iceberg heart he leapt to his feet
to applaud, loudly and alone. She leaves our theater to cheers.
The film unreels. Housed now in Clara, she ushers us inside,
past, present, and future imperfect, all one muscular tense.