South American Quartet by Ward Kelley

South American Quartet by Ward Kelley

 South American Quartet by Ward Kelley

South American Quartet

Ward Kelley



It would be better if trees burned people,
instead of these great fires we use to cloud
our sinful souls from ghosts of our futures.

Yet if trees burned us, smoke would be blacker,
and the smell of those flames not maternal,
protecting, as the scent of smoldering
wood assuages us.

Your black skin smells like safety, a hearth fire;
I didn’t think it, expecting wild
or spice smells to your thighs, not guessing you
so custodial.
I first saw you across the bus, when you
turned to apprehend my admiring eyes,
for beautiful women always quickly
detect him when a man looks them over.

It’s an evolved sense, is it not? To see
the man quickly, before any possible
impact occurs? Yet now your ancient eyes
assented there within your youthful face,
and I uplifted
like smoke wafting through foreign lands, a ghost
who learns nothing from the forests we burn
and burn, never learning why your dark limbs
seek to protect love, as deftly as you
deliver salvation to a white man.


You see, I wandered into the dead ones here,
in barren jungles filled with these odd ghosts
who don’t yet know how to use the tropics;
I first saw dead ones when they cavorted
across your black thigh . . . my hand sleepily
slid over your dark, custodial skin,
kicking up the dead ones like tiny imps
of dust flickering in rays of sunlight
which will penetrate a musty jungle.

I can feel your soft, penetrating skin
as a receptor of souls, and perhaps
this is where I belonged, there within you . . .
ah, little wisps, dead souls, syncopated
to my own soul, they say, “we all struggle,
struggle to belong . . . once there, we
all struggle, struggle to escape again.”
But why would they pronounce such cruel words here
on the tropics of your childless flesh?

Your black skin whispers one final message,
how we all produce such contrary lives,
and even the dead ones who now kick up
the earthy dust of our own breathing pulse
cannot accept contrary impulses
driving us both, pulsing, living and dead . . .

so salvation comes,
but it comes repeatedly . . .
by touching someone new . . .



Help me, help me, I am never coming
back to these wearisome mountains, never
returning to your cleverly black skin . . .
for white men do not truly ever know
how to simply return to pure women
who waited, and endured, for centuries.
Save me, save me, I never left, for good,
your custodial skin, never wandered
off from the belief in what waits for me
at your thighs, at your lips: the dead wait there . . .
you never told me your skin acted so
clever as to provide maternity
for both dead and breathing, and I now see
you are the words, but your eyes danced again,
again with joy from such consummation.
You now sought to marry me with the dead.
Yet must I leave? It’s not you who sends me
away, and not the dead . . . who always flit . . .
then at the circumference I felt it,
how I cannot see the enormity
of the terrible problem the dead souls
must solve, while they, themselves, flitting by,
do not own solutions provided me
by touching skin.


Then in the end, I walk alone;
there are no dead ones with their
rather odd counsel . . . no darkened
sirens whose black skin redeems
even the white devils . . . no
country, foreign, sensual,
where I can blend into the mass
of jungle souls.

There walks my own soul, alone,
given the chore to make sense
of this: this through which we wade,
this of which we touch, this skin
in which I live . . .

the worst of the loneliness
comes when I miss part of me –
the consequential pieces –
left behind me

as the price for loving you,
here in the foreign country
in which we breathe . . .

we love this terrible trade:
knowledge for flesh.