Chineyman (1968)


He moves haphazardly, blown along the pavement
in uneven gusts, like ricepaper.
The oldest man in the world.
Not for him, beneath that mask of grey
enamelled hair, dried dreams of palaces
floating on their pools of silken poetry
or orchideous concubines in rites of silk.
More likely a drab exchange of servitude
Eastern soil for saltfish
and the crudely offered tithes paid daily
on the mackerel counters by us lazy blacks
who’d rather spend than sell:
the necessary sacrifice of language
and the timeless shame of burial
in this uncultured soil.
Yet in the intricate embroidery of that face
are all the possibilities of legend—
Kublai Khan in rags.

Loud-limbed and less ancient
I defer the pavement to this parchment schooner
with no port, this ivory chorale of semitones.