Winter 2010

Cross the sea, Esman.

Jeanann Verlee

On June 19, 2008 Jamaican immigrant Esman Greene died on the floor of the emergency room waiting area at New York City’s Kings County Psychiatric Ward. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, she had been hospitalized against her will and without her family’s consent. As captured by cameras, she lay dead in full view of hospital staff for over an hour.

I.   On the third day God created America.

Dyed the thread blue. Stitched a patchwork
banner, tourniquets, blindfolds.

There were men, parchment, there were wives
and cattle. Gospels covered in lambskin.

God brought sea cargo with hollow eyes, saltwater lungs
made rivers and beasts and mountains for conquering.

Offered handcuffs, needles, built waiting rooms.
There was a woman, sticky like dried fruit.

The zookeeper watched
smiled when her rat-legs twitched.

II.   Esman becomes America.

You are gravel scratch shoes
crows’ cackle, hissing power lines
the rumble of an elevated train
grinding through Brooklyn.
You are faucet drip, chirping cell phone
firework’s snap, barista latte foam,
playground chatter, iron bars clanked with keys
a shotgun crack. You are blooded coughs,
bile splash, schizophrenic’s howl
after the injection.

III.   Jamaica calls on weekends.

First, they promise you a dream:
Cross the sea, Esman.

You leave your country
find a church, a bed, a lampshade.
You work, send money and gifts to six waiting mouths
their toes digging into the sand you regret.

When the ticks start, you call it a phase
when the voices arc, you buy a bottle of chardonnay.
You lose your job, close the sun from your room, forget how to eat.
By the time the clocks start to scream
you’ve forgotten your eldest daughter’s name.

They break the lock. Bind your limbs.
Tuck their tongues behind the word healers.
When the fluid bites into your blood, the lights go grey
when the floor kisses your cheekbone, your mouth curls into fist
but you are mute, blind, alone          in a room of warm corpses.

IV.   Said the manic to the muse:

Sweet Esman, I have opened my skin
countless times
choked on the gristle picked from your plate
muted the voices with pills and wine
smashed the clocks, Esman
smashed them!

Kings County will place you on the mantle they forgot to build.
They’ll frame you without glass on a wall with no paint.
Repent with each pluck of a new vein.

When they place your bones on the ship
push off from the dock, when the wind carries your sweet bloom
across the sea, through the palms
when the sand finally welcomes you home

America will be here