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passionate engagement in anti-colonial, civil rights, black power and liberation movements, including many previously unpublished tributes to nineteenth and twentieth-century revolutionary leaders and to writers like Martin Carter, Dennis Brutus, Agostinho Neto, Andrew Salkey, Alejo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
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.
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
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 PATRICE LUMUMBA! HERO! PATRIOT! 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: PATRICE LUMUMBA! HERO! PATRIOT! February, 1961