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Cyrus Cassells
Poems

About the Poet

Cyrus Cassells was born in Dover, Delaware.

He is the author of five acclaimed books of poetry: The Mud Actor, Soul Make a Path through Shouting, Beautiful Signor, More Than Peace and Cypresses, and The Crossed-Out Swastika, a finalist for the Balcones Prize for Best Poetry book of 2012. His sixth book, The Gospel according to Wild Indigo, is forthcoming.

He has received a Lannan Literary Award, a William Carlos Williams Award, and a Lambda Literary Award.

 


Spring 2016 »

The Low Country Magazine

It’s a rousing dream that mirrors
the schoolhouse glory of these days

alongside you in the Low Country:
The sweep of the Gullah world

magically looms, under my lids,
as a bustling magazine:

not earnest Ebony, gossipy Jet,
or Ladies’ Home Journal,

but like the lavish, brimming Bon Marché
the French meaning of the word:

on the first floor,
a swift-as-a-robin runagate

trailing a fugitive-guiding star;
a stirring spectacle

of unfailing harvest women
fanning rice in round,

winnowing baskets;
a coffle of chanting men

active in the sweat
of malarial Junes & Julys,

as summering rice kings
time & again consign them

to bull-headed sun,
unceasing swamp-labor

& unremitting malady—
On the second floor, a steely,

grey-eyed Gullah slave who endured
Job-&-Jonah-harsh snares

to savor a life, scot-free
of iron-hearted masters,

blessing her uphill descendants,
still hardy, long-despised, still

winsome as luxuriant willows,
still abraded & believing in

the unkillable dream
of colorblind justice & respect—

On the last vaulted floor,
the ease & freedom

of nowadays, spread
like a vast fisherman’s net

full of lost things & surprises,
like the reed-shifting ivory

of lithe herons lifting
from the marshland’s darkening hem . . .

 

~

A Gullah Valentine (Near-about Spring)

Augustus, what I’m ready to praise:
Mount Pleasant aunties who quell

ghosts of feet-don’t-fail-me-now,
ghosts of if-you’re-black-stay-back,

specters of inglorious slaving ships
& wolf-tough phantoms,

savvy, okra-cooking grannies,
who daily keep the flame

for the always-present-tense glory
of living Gullah—

What I love: the loop-the-loop
of our intoxicating days;

shredded barbecue
in a Winn Dixie plastic bucket

& your younger sister Marquetta’s
buttered & peppered stoneground grits;

the bull’s eye of the beguiling
compound words of Gullah:

dayclean for the brisk, new,
indomitable day;

daylean for the dash-away
light on Kiawah or Edisto;

bukruhbittle for a lording
white man’s “superior” food;

the time-worn brick leviathan
of fabled Catfish Row,

& the long-dreaming,
Apollo-lofty

Angel Oak on St. John’s Island—
Lord, we were spat on;

we were whipped
in a Sea Island school
,

the soul-struck, still-scrappy locals
sing out, but now us speak

our Gullah proudly
A true Gullah valentine

would surely have to feature
Low Country branches graced

with green & lion-colored glass,
sun-washed empties

(Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew,
Chardonnay, Manischewitz…),

chockablock shrimp shacks,
lush, leafy chinquapins,

and “sugar, sugar,
how’d you get so fly!”—

Augustus, I know you had the gumption
or nervy bravery to share

news of our pistol-hot love
with your pew-strict,

disowning father (a catastrophe!),
& boy, it hurts,

but even so, let’s hail
our hard-to-hold-still,

near-about-spring moments,
the way the magnanimous

Low Country moon rises
past our gunwale

& fashions an elating,
March-into-April fan

in the big, rippling night mirror
of the marina.

 

 

Cyrus Cassells ~

 

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