POEM: Birthright

Image of Kendel Hippolyte
Image of Kendel Hippolyte
Kendel Hippolyte

the people’s leaders and the plush financiers
soft in an air-conditioned upper chamber
sat round a mess of pottage

price of pottage had been rising
to match the high demand
set by the Joneses of New York who’d made it;
now the mess of frozen pottage that they’d left
was thawing on the table:
plastic aluminium chrome and vinyl dreams
baubles bangles beads (the very latest)
the head of John the Baptist
other crunchy pieces of the good life U.$.A.
(John Wayne eats this too and so does Marilyn)
happiness with added preservatives
were all there for the taking

the leaders, sitting on old promises, shifted
uncomfortably; their pulses quickened
to a disco-beat; they watched
as bits of pottage gloated to the surface
they calculated ballots, checked the G.N.P.
(a former loud progressive thought about
the ancient bargains on the Guinea coast)
they phoned a sub-committee, consulted an expert
grafted a proposal, then
negotiated on the terms of trade

question marks, percentages, mark-up figures
clattered like thrown dice on the table
rates of interest flickered
digits registered in pale eyes
papers rustled stiffly with secrets
attaché cases lay like open traps
lipsunzippered halfway
tongues retracted their positions
and as they fixed the price of pottage
the air was crisp, metallic
tense with the cacchination of betrayal

finally they paid for pottage
with the sun, passing it off as a gold coin
they paid with stolen diamonds of clear singing rain
with brand-new banknotes of the young leaves
they used the pearls of our women’s smiles
the silk of rivers in sunlight
pure silver of fish in the free ocean
they hurriedly exchanged the stars
for genuine low-cost sequins at Carnival
and hustled off the new moon as a tropical curio
to Mrs Jones’ boutique, N.Y.
they haggled, bargaining like vendors
till they were bartered down
back to their last, their final good —
their people

the flushed financiers added one more clause:
blood for Coca-Cola
one brain for each computer
Jello in exchange for semen
a talking blue-eyed doll for each one of our women
Bargain! Deal! and then, the best part —
a pocket calculator in exchange for a heart

silence washed in eddies through the room
bald heads bobbed in it wisely
a corporation chairman asked the time
one politician stirred the cold mess thoughtfully
an expert dipped, sampled another morsel
said it was delicate, in his opinion, but
(eventually) worth it
the people’s leaders, in the upper chamber
broke bread, broke faith, poured blood
and minced their words and our flesh into the pottage
then they began to eat, slowly, without appetite
their last supper.

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