Roger Bonair-Agard

Claim – For The Ocean

Vietnam drowned in a lake last year. Pat say
that’s why he don’t fuck with no fresh
water. Pat say only ocean buoys island bodies
enough for the risk of the moon in the early
morning. Pat say nobody brown need
to be fucking with a lake—at night, no
less. We toasted then—tagay tagay
Filipino style—to Vietnam, to his body
claimed away by a vexed moon’s tide
even though Pat didn’t even know youngblood.

But what about all the brown bodies at the bottom
of the salt water I say. Damn son, no doubt
Pat says tagay tagay—we toast again. Ocean
claim so much, we sit up in Brooklyn
drinking a rum from Hispaniola, from
sugar cane, talking bout we only fuck with salt
water, like we done give Ocean all permission
to take as it see fit. We black/brown; ironic
as fuck, half ready to fight the next white
face we see—half weeping into a full glass
of rum before we empty it and pass it
back to the other. In this ritual, you don’t
pour your own drink. It is respect to fill
your homie’s glass, and be poured for
in turn. It is a celebration ritual, a grief
ritual. That one night is about a boy I loved
claimed by a lake; another, about finding
the foster home where I was born, before
my mother had to cross an ocean to prepare
a place for me, before I crossed it and crossed
it back again to find myself black and besieged.
So many of us bones blanched at the bottom
of this ocean, and still we take to it like
it loves us, like we family these 500 years
of float later. Ocean don’t love us
It just love our mermaid style, but I don’t
tell Pat this part. We’re drunk by now
and even then you’re inside your own
head, floating, deciding what to surrender
to and what to leave submerged.
                          Once, on the island that made
me, the ocean was a ritual
too. I climbed mountains
in an old car in the middle of the night to make
love at its shores, to remember where I had
come from so that it might stay
with me where I was going. That night
the water came up; lapped at our bodies, furious
in the sand. We wept.
We filled
each other’s cups. We put the ocean
to our mouths. We drank. 

Roger Bonair-Agard

Roger Bonair-Agard is a native of Trinidad & Tobago, a Cave Canem fellow & author of three collections of poems, tarnish & masquerade (Cypher Books, 2006), GULLY (Cypher Books/Peepal Tree Press, 2010), and Bury My Clothes (Haymarjet Books, 2013). He is co-founder and Artistic Director of NYC's louderARTS Project. He is Nina's father. He splits time between Chicago and Brooklyn. 

(Photo credit: Riza Falk)