Return to Streets of Eternity

Return to Streets of Eternity brings together, for the first time, poems written during a life-time of passionate engagement in anti-colonial, civil rights, black power and liberation movements, including many previously unpublished tributes to nineteenth and twentieth-century revolutionary leaders and to writers like Martin Carter, Dennis Brutus, Agostinho Neto, Andrew Salkey, Alejo Carpentier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Joy Gleason Carew, Associate Professor of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville, is the author of Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise. She met Jan Carew in 1974 and they spent the next thirty-seven years together.

Chris Searle has written or edited over fifty books, including The Forsaken Lover (winner of the 1973 Martin Luther King Award), Classrooms of Resistance, The World in a Classroom, Pitch of Life and Forward Groove. His collected poems, Lightning of Your Eyes, is published by Smokestack.

Cover image: Jan Carew, Sunset
Author photo: Terry Sampson

Sample Poems

Toussaint L'Ouverture

a reverie

Who is a slave and who is free
when anarchy reigns?
I have been vanquished
by my haste to change the world:
Christophe! Dessalines!
pourquoi m’avez-vous trahi?
These sentinel peaks of Jura
are daggers dipped in venom;
the cold demented wind,
moaning in the pine trees,
sneaks underneath my window,
whispering of death and graves
and the putrid delight of maggots.
This fortress of Joux
where I am caged
is sucking my life
into its damp walls:
‘Guard! Guard!
give me paper, ink and a quill’
I brought the sun in my blood,
but now
I must move closer to the fire,
and bathe my limbs in flames
‘Guard! Guard!’
I have been ordered to give you
nothing on which you can write.
Why do you write, and write?
The Emperor will never reply.
And yet he asks about you
all the time
as though he were afraid.
‘Afraid? After pushing me
to the lip of the grave?
Then he’s afraid of ghosts
and phantoms
from the forest of everlasting night.’
I am already dead,
but he’s afraid of liberty.
The word’s a burning ember
on his tongue.
I was born a slave
and now, liberty’s the breath of life to me.
I first discovered ancestral legacies
dancing around campfires at night,
and, as I danced,
shadows from the agile flames
striped my body like a tiger’s,
and my feet inherited the wind.
Phantom footsteps echo
in the circle of my vacant days
as though ghosts of the fallen
were once more on parade.
I must give the sentries
orders for the night, General L’Ouverture.
‘Tell them that
the password:
should be Fear!
Say that I am being buried alive in order
to allay an Emperor’s fear.’
Outside, ravens scrawled
shadowed arabesques
on pages of the wind.
When morning came sunlight fell upon a corpse.
The jailer touched the icy face
And sent his final report
To the Emperor:
‘General L’Ouverture died last night . . .’
the news winged its way across continents
and an ocean
Toussaint is dead,
but liberty is alive!
The Haitian hills
will trap the morning light again
and the people will sing.

Grenada! Grenada!

to Roberto Retamar with fraternal greetings in this hour of trial

Grenada! Grenada!

You can betray this revolution
for a moment in time
but you can never
extinguish its fire.

Burn fire, burn!
under folds of lava skin
that covers hills and glades
of defiance
it is the fire of volcano
hidden in chasmed hollows
of the heart and mind
Brother Bishop, Fidel, Daniel O,
they’re trying to revile
a friendship forged
in fires of volcano
but the fire-seeds you garnered
in silos bursting with ideas
were scattered by a hurricane
the revolution lives!
You can betray the revolution
for a moment
but you can never extinguish its fire

Burn fire, burn.
The revolution lives!
Soufrière was erupting
In a neighbouring isle
The morning of a march day
When Brother Bishop said,
‘Stand up, brothers and sisters,
and stretch limbs
cramped from too much kneeling,
this is a revolution for bread, for jobs,
for the liberty of the suffering folk,
stand up, I say,
and never kneel again!
Soufrière, echoed Brother Bishop’s words,
with a declaration of fire
dimming the luminosity of night stars
They say that Soufrière’s sleeping now
And Bishop’s lying in a nameless grave
But can volcanic fires die?
You can betray the revolution
for a moment
But you can never extinguish its fire.

Burn fire, burn
The revolution lives!
Brother Bishop’s voice
is cradled in a hurricane
And pounding like fists
inside the brains
of those who might despair:
‘Stand up, brothers and sisters,
and stretch limbs
cramped from too much kneeling.
This is a revolution for bread, for jobs,
for the liberty of the suffering folk, stand up, I say
and never kneel again!’
The revolution lives!

Chicago, 15 December 1983

The Death of Lumumba

To die a lonely death
with only the echoes of voices, crying, Uhuru! Uhuru!
This was the fate of a dreaming man,
son of a warrior tribe – the Batatelas,
The tribe of all men crying, Uhuru! Freedom!
Out of the empty days, out of the lost years.
others have died but none so lonely:
None have known the agony of his last days
entombed in a sepulcre of hate,
journeying to the forest of the long night.
But tears have never warmed the cold hearts of the dead,
and I will raise my banner in the sorrowing winds
and shout.
This man and his comrades Mpolo and Okito
walked the green plains below the mountains of the Moon
and saw the sunsets on great rivers that the mountains fed –
the Congo, the Limpopo, the eternal Nile;
This brother who had spoken to a King
and was more royal than the Sons of Heaven
His pride was naked,
no vestments, no coronets, no lambent eyes, no vacant smiles,
No opiate of words to soothe his enemies
he rose up like a comet, burning out himself to light the world,
Black Africa has known no other in our time
Who left bright lightnings
so that dying there remains
an everlasting memory of light.
I must not weep for him
for mossy stones will weep
beside the lake in Kivu.
And if I weep my tears must fall like long rains
that herald the paths of thunder.
His final dream was this:
those who plunder and betray
must inherit the wild winds of my people’s anger,
And I will reap the wind and share the harvest of my anger
with the world of living men.
In the wide continent of his vision
he sought to build a Republic of Freedom
This vision is my heritage
So tell me no more words about his dying,
no requiems on the singing drums,
no sakadas for him
For I will reap the wind and share my anger
with the world of living men.
An atrocious death, an unknown grave,
yet many feet will walk aslant green trails of memory
in pilgrimage.
How lonely the dead are!
And yet I will not weep for him,
I’ll write no epitaph
but raise my banner high
Too many hearts like talking drums
will beat the morse code of his martyrdom,
and tell of a man who talked to kings
and was more royal than the Sons of Heaven.
The Earth that mothered him, that mothered Africa
now binds the enchantment of his tongue.
But words he spoke remain:
Uhuru! Freedom!
And I will raise my banner high as clouds
that flank the burning sun:

February, 1961