A Geography of Lemon Trees
(for Rohlihalahla and poetry, the "Troublemaker")


A geography of lemon trees,
a geology of ancient eyelids,
a geometry of topaz reflecting an amorous couple
or a lip trembling at death,
a sea, one of many, swallowing work
and spitting out weather and the flesh
of fish to lie beneath a slice of lemon
on a blue-and-white plate made in Poland:
Poetry will breathe and bring
these things into impossible rooms
or hillside rocks where a young dreamer looks
down at a page and up into a sky
under which, somewhere, a struggle
for a moment of peace is occurring:
a hot word or bullet casing
falls to the dirt, fear cooling slowly;
the world that someone lives in changes more slowly
because someone else doesn’t want
a changing world and wears money over his eyes
and a Johannesburg diamond
on his red, white, and blue tie.
The Poet dances, though,
with another President elected by
the South African people
and their sky: the word
that holds them together,
“Amandla,” is blue
in the trumpet of Hugh Masakela
and in the Poem without words
sung by the date—27 April ’94,
a geomancy of votes,
a magic of sacrifice sweated out in jails,
an altar of honorable action,
a resistance to having the meaning of labor
or language stolen by pouting officials.
People’s people who speak and listen know
the word for power has suffered;
at the hands of force and doubt.
The bones of Victor Jara’s hands, the heart
he shared with the scribbler at the shore,
the trust of a people in their own election,
all these things that go beyond being things
have been broken; but when the words
and what resonates like a star between them,
when they get together like people in the streets,
one nation beyond nationality
raises the round face it borrows from the poet
whose exiles taught him the weight of the breath,
and the broad cheekbones of the dancing president
who found the fruits of exile in prison,
and the dark deep eyes of that dreamer
whose voice echoes from his exile of bullets,
and the forelock of that boyish attorney
who was shot for reclaiming us all from our exile
outside the good that law can do,
and the voice of that gospel singer who reminds us still
of a “great gettin’-up day” in the midst
of the peacemakers’ diaspora.
Then, a feeling comes again—of possibilities
beyond the nearly unmentionable realities
of life in the mines, possibilities
jewel-hard and shining,
perdurable as the words
whispered from soul to soul
that keep the risk and the chance
alive: a bell, a flag, a fish,
a name, a knock, an anarchy
of loves, a note, a wave
that shifts the sands into a new shape,
a lemon blossom bittersweetness
on an azure wind that passes
but will pass again
from a tropic turning the world
in a fresh direction.

Tom Marshall