When Jimmy Cliff sang “Trapped” I had never been
enough in love to wear chains, to give away
the three or four things I do well for the sake
of someone else’s slim measure: I mean joy
as a feather on the scales, the weight of a cape
slipping off the shoulders. But whose cape?
This is when Dean would run for the river banging
a pan with a pistol and fingering the right wrist
for a pulse or a tattoo of Singapore, the whole city
on his forearm, though neither of us cared for
the blue aleph of “everyness” those years between stations.
And Dean would never say Borges while I
can’t seem to stop dropping names.
“I will teach my eyes to see beyond these walls
in front of me,” though even the metaphor
in the metaphysics is a sort of loofah on a stick,
a sponge I could have eaten had I been there
at the harvest. It wasn’t Dean nor was it David
who worried metaphor was simply evasion,
though here I go, as far from chains as a retired jailer.
Clemency has nothing to do with guilt or, as it
turns out, innocence. But I’m sick of mercy.
Or maybe just tired of it, tired of asking at the end
of the day for the quiet inside a seashell, which is
to say for music as it simmers down. And there it is:
from Jimmy Cliff to Bob Marley in a phrase.
What better way to slip away, to break away,
to end away from where I started: trapped.
James Harms is the author of seven books of poetry including Comet Scar, to be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. He is a recipient of an nea fellowship, the pen/Revson fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes, among other honors. A Professor of English at West Virginia University, he also directs the low-residency mfa program in poetry at New England College.