I. My face resembles your face less and less each day. When I was young no one mistook whose child I was. Features build coloring alone among my creamy fine-boned sisters marked me Byron's daughter.
No sun set when you died, but a door opened onto my mother. After you left she grieved her crumpled world aloft an iron fist sweated with business symbols a printed blotter dwell in the house of Lord's your hollow voice changing down a hospital corridor yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.
II. I rummage through the deaths you lived swaying on a bridge of question. At seven in Barbados dropped into your unknown father's life your courage vault from his tailor's table back to the sea. Did the Grenada treeferns sing your 15th summer as you jumped ship to seek your mother finding her too late surrounded with new sons?
Who did you bury to become the enforcer of the law the handsome legend before whose raised arm even trees wept a man of deep and wordless passion who wanted sons and got five girls? You left the first two scratching in a treefern's shade the youngest is a renegade poet searching for your answer in my blood.
My mother's Grenville tales spin through early summer evenings. But you refused to speak of home of stepping proud Black and penniless into this land where only white men ruled by money. How you labored in the docks of the Hotel Astor your bright wife a chambermaid upstairs welded love and survival to ambition as the land of promise withered crashed the hotel closed and you peddle dawn-bought apples from a push-cart on Broadway.
Does an image of return wealthy and triumphant warm your chilblained fingers as you count coins in the Manhattan snow or is it only Linda who dreams of home?
When my mother's first-born cries for milk in the brutal city winter do the faces of your other daughters dim like the image of the treeferned yard where a dark girl first cooked for you and her ash heap still smells of curry?
III. Did the secret of my sisters steal your tongue like I stole money from your midnight pockets stubborn and quaking as you threaten to shoot me if I am the one? The naked lightbulbs in our kitchen ceiling glint off your service revolver as you load whispering.
Did two little dark girls in Grenada dart like flying fish between your averted eyes and my pajamaless body our last adolescent summer? Eavesdropped orations to your shaving mirror our most intense conversations were you practicing how to tell me of my twin sisters abandoned as you had been abandoned by another Black woman seeking her fortune Grenada Barbados Panama Grenada. New York City.
IV. You bought old books at auctions for my unlanguaged world gave me your idols Marcus Garvey Citizen Kane and morsels from your dinner plate when I was seven. I owe you my Dahomeyan jaw the free high school for gifted girls no one else thought I should attend and the darkness that we share. Our deepest bonds remain the mirror and the gun.
V. An elderly Black judge known for his way with women visits this island where I live shakes my hand, smiling. "I knew your father," he says "quite a man!" Smiles again. I flinch at his raised eyebrow. A long-gone woman's voice lashes out at me in parting "You will never be satisfied until you have the whole world in your bed!"
Now I am older than you were when you died overwork and silence exploding your brain. You are gradually receding from my face. Who were you outside the 23rd Psalm? Knowing so little how did I become so much like you?
Your hunger for rectitude blossoms into rage the hot tears of mourning never shed for you before your twisted measurements the agony of denial the power of unshared secrets.