What I Know

by Hannah Lowe


What I Know

a glosa

 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.

                                   from ‘The Waking’ by Theodore Roethke

 

At night, you find me at the oil-lamp, dice in hand.

I say to myself, if I throw a pair of fives

I’ll give up this life – the hot slow days

of hurricanes, sweet reek of banana rot,

black fruit on the vine. I want another hand

of chances. I grip the dice and blow

a gust of luck into my fist. I’m dreaming

of England, yes, work, yes, women, riches.

I shake these bone cubes hard, let go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

 

The radio fizzes news across the tenement yard –

dazed soldiers sailing home, a weekend parade,

monsoon time coming. I pass dead horses

in the field, dead mules. Men sag like slack suits

in the square. Talk of leaving starts like rain,

slow and spare, a rattle in a can. My tears

aren’t for the ship, new places, strange people,

but the loss of my always faces – I mean,

my people, who I know, my places. My sister says

you carry them with you, don’t fear.

What falls away is always. And is near.

 

The ship rocks steady across the ocean.

You ever look out to sea, and on every side

is sky and water, too much too blue?

Thoughts lap at me like waves against the bow,

not where am I, but why and who?

At night, we use our hours up, ten fellows

flocked to someone’s sticky room. I roll the dice

or deal for chemmy, brag, pontoon.

We go till dawn, a huddle at the lamp turned low.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Some fellow swore there were diamonds

on these streets. Look hard enough in rain

you’ll see them. I squint my eyes but what I see

is sunshine on the dock, my mother’s white gloves

waving me goodbye. There’s no diamonds here,

or if there are, they’re under this skin of snow.

Seems the whole world’s gone white. I roll my dice

in basements below these English pavements.

I guess I’m learning what I need to know.

I learn by going where I have to go.