The Defiance of Figures in Wood by lemuel Johnson

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Nana, what about love?

Love?… Love?… Love is not safe.

Ama Ata Aidoo, ‘Changes’

But barter we did: it remains still

to be clear what we won; what else

it was we lost:

whitefrocked girls on silly sundays

in their yellow shoes;

small bottles and april showers;

the regent slant and tilt of a straw hat;

long-stockinged scriptures; the litter

of harbours where certain ladies once sat

on the railings of deserted quays and ate

out of the empty thighs of strange men

(wherever it was that cunt met dick

in the simple enough english

that jigs so at the heart of the matter).

like to like, and organizing chaos,

how could we sink?

the gods stand up for bastards:

in their own odd dance

they fall out of the sky,

with their foreskins peeled back.

we could kneel, too, on the sea,

ambitious as salt water

itself, and not sink; though the caked

hulls of ships, their ships,

when they depart, shake

the wakes we intend, or keep.

gravel, shale; compost heap or rock

face – and the earth thinks to reject

knowledge of our weight,

now that we know to pass yellow water

through the holes we are left to own;

we who had thought to hoard thought

in graceless aims,

diving for the difference

in some broken language of love!

call us Ishmael (if you please) or Barabbas;

Habibatu and Zenobia. Cain, too.

we take a count in figure and in sum,

no matter how hissed as injury into the ear;

we barter coinage for coin, and do not sink.

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