Phillip Shabazz is the author of Flames in The Fire, XYZoom, Freestyle and Visitation, and a novel in verse, When the Grass Was Blue. His poetry has been included in the anthologies, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook, and Home Is Where: African-American Poetry from the Carolinas.
He works as a poet-in the-schools in North Carolina. Previous publication credits include: Across The Margin, American Voice, Fine Lines, Galway Review, Obsidian, and Louisville Review.
Away from home, it’s been years since I’ve seen my father; after all, if I am to map out the road to find him, I’ve nothing to lose on this island of the East inside the surf-breathing sunlight the splashes do not shadow only fill the sea. I’ve nothing to lose on the sleepy bridges of air arching over the coastline. That from this bowl in my hand I pour wine on the sand, not to stay lost like some men— but to reconnect with my father. End this long silence before the doors close. Leave us split into nowhere.
Here the foot soldiers jostle for a top spot at the table in the temple. I only visit to pray. I’ve been silenced for being a bad believer. The faces seen through windows, the mouths open, each one unwritten like whispers circulating a family secret. To my father who has left me sitting on the stairs, to the priest who promises paradise if I stay, I am a lamplight in the summer sunset. I am Machiavelli standing in the lamplight. Since my return, on this evening I see my father in Machiavelli the way a lamplight shows a kid clicking it off. Within the halls raw bitterness and a mafia of stares spread grins into grins. Bleed them for all they’re worth. So many swear words unspoken at once, it’s as though spit holds back the name calling. Even when I shut my eyes, I sense night falling over the holy book and other books beside it. How doubt fields my questions that are answered, but not clear enough. And only since my voice has been silenced into the walls our link remains somewhat broken. I am here. They are there. That’s heaven enough for me and hell enough to scatter the hush into jazz without dogma, toward sea and spring. Never mind that I can’t sit next to the man-god, to adore his maple-shaded skin. Instead I handle him with gloves the way a mortician does the dead. I handle him, blade in my sock— better free than a slave, better plus than a minus.
Out of a time digging television for rest on a lean cot, bone-tired after an eight-hour squeeze, in smoke-stained walls of weed heads, I breathe in clouds to drift farther into a netherworld—moon, closure, autumn. Only sharpened steel edges stayed and many icepick scars from my dissent against sadness lingered in the head. The brute I’d become pulled me into a field of stars. A son half-lost, but game. When my father and I talked he didn’t know my blood mumbled a silent sea song. Almost nothing was said. I layback with cold beer, listened to tales of his AWOL and girlfriend in Paris during the Good War. Colette, her name touched his tongue. And throwing away the bottle, how happy he seemed to remember her. How lovely to love a memory, I thought to myself when he’d gone to bed. I sang in my dream— a pumpkin moon faded into the grass.