The Sweet Hurried Trip Under an Overcast Sky cover

The Sweet Hurried Trip Under an Overcast Sky

Major Jackson

Copyright © 2013 Major Jackson. All rights reserved.

Night Steps

I’ll never forget the wind the corner whispered,
nor the windowed darkness that was more
a frame for the world’s high-rise loneliness.
I’ll never forget the days we lingered
beneath our fingerprints and how we were
each other’s private sacrament.
Brooms and mops hung behind doors
like secret agents. The crooks of our knees
ached from all the praying; our astonished hands
could not keep up, being daydreamers
of water towers and such. What monastery would
welcome such after-images like those we spoke?
Electric wires over a bus stop, a fly mumbling
and dodging a swatter, a light brown maid smiling
on a bottle of corn syrup. I’ll never forget
such sprigs of trembling and honeysuckle
nor other forms of desire: the nightsteps
of an upright bass or blue-eyeshadow
like slashes beneath my mother’s brow.

Urban Renewal


Never get used to the morning slow prayers of palm
leaves, the feisty light caressing the cubed
halls on the hills in the Chora, the mewling psalms
of homeless cats, the surf roiling its evaporating tubes;
salute the snails climbing in clusters like Salgado’s miners
up the stalk of a weed, since what you grieve is not
the sublime change of seasons, but the minor
hurts you caused in loving too many women. That hot
orb dazzles the heart to a spectacle but you’ve one more
chance to focus like the Greek sparrow balanced
on the precipice of a roof, nest matter in his mouth
looking for a moment to the shore, then like a lance
taking flight to build a home. Never get used to
yucca leaves lifting like a chorus of arms,
the garnishing blue of the Aegean Sea splitting
your eyes into a million sparkling charms.


On the Aegean Speed Line, high-tailing a fast ferry
away from Perseus’s birthplace, away from those beaches
with names like Ganema, Sykamia, Megalo Livadi,
whose scythe-like coves left us speechless
and shockingly bold as we unpeeled our bathing suits
like human wrappers, and let pebbly sand stick
to our backs, while the sun conducted its trade routes.
We ask: Why are we leaving again? Homesick
we are not, though we did wish Langston & Dylan
here, so as to astonish that we were the better
parents, and surely I cursed the island for its urchins
who fired missiles when my hand sought treasures
near their spiky orbs. I understand now why
children and the dead are abandoned: heaven is a cult
of the irrational. In my glazed-over eyes, your body
found an ally; I rubbed cream until the tumult
of our lives cured right on the spot. Now on deck,
an illness returns. Paradise dwindles to a speck.

xxv. Salobreña

That stretch of mountains features white windmill
blades whose slow turns are rifles aiming, for I cannot
help but think of Lorca’s killing between here and the village
Alfaçar, and the firing squad’s gun pops are that flamencan
dancer’s heel stomps.  I bring back, too, her hand claps
and the cantor’s Andalusian moans like dried sticks,
or bones crumbling in his throat. Yet, only souvenir shops
and steep winding streets accrete in this region’s stacked
brochures.  Her dress spills across the restaurant’s floor
like a red shadow, darker than billboards of black bulls
high above roadways, motionless yet seeming to gallop
like Franco’s brigades.  All seeing is an act of war.
Tanks and artillery.  Spanish castles and mosques.
I choose to lose, and beneath a watercolorist’s sky
study Didi’s splendor against the unruffled backdrop
of the Alboran Sea whose waves match my sighs
and bomb this beach, launching sprays of frothing duds.

xxvi. Berimbau

for Jason Finkelman & Cynthia Oliver

You, bow-shaped recipe of opulent whines
on steel wire, who keeps the buzz on an acrobat’s spine,
or in a circle, open-aired against the city’s noise, or
silent in a studio—at night especially—before
a bustling round of capoeiristas’ flying kicks, strike
me a pageant of notes and tell how the snake
leaves behind its skin, how bones laid at a door
curses him who crosses a sill, how in Congo Square
on Sundays, African dances kept six hundred slaves alive,
how war defines a century, how the last goodbye
is often a surprise, how the silver bars of a ladder
once meant someone needed set free, or sadder
still, how we must always answer Who are we?: that is,
you’re more than gourd & stone, you’re the crisis
I hear when I bend to kiss my son, or when,
at a bar standing, see my brown face in a glass of rum.


Every island is filled with loneliness, even Serifos,
where a donkey’s eye is a suffering despondent.
where Father Makarious makes the sign of the cross
as waves arrive like faithful correspondents
and tamarisk trees tender shade like floating coins
and a fisherman slaps his octopus again and again
on a stone by the bay of Livadi at dawn,
and the dazzling nipples of Americans redden
to rusted dials, sharing one sun, where one may take
such signs as nature’s camaraderie, except that waitress
who cuts her listless eyes so deep she stakes
you to that label tourist, as though excess were the body’s
supply at every given place, especially at night
when studded lights mend the horizon as cars zig-zag
terraced mountains, and what’s heard are voices blown
for thousands of years over villas beyond sagebrush
that bears your grief so familiar you weep.

Special Needs

Only the skin runs ahead like a spruced-up
dream from which I never awake.
What really exists, no one knows.
In exchange for shook foil,
Hopkins killed the agnostic in him.
I want to kill the polygamist in me.
A sound, a whole sound is never a separation.
A whole sound is an angelic order.
I am most whole in an alley off Market Street
where I pretend to be a sentence
and not a sentiment, like a friend to stray
cats and beautiful women. My young cousins only want
hard words and money. If the economy sinks, they will
kill you quicker than a brainwave.
I give my sympathy to the last evangelical.
As long as the body is blaring,
we avoid the straitjackets of conformity.
I am zealous for the taste of my life.
Sometime, I do not sleep for days.
In the mornings, I rub my hands together
back and forth summoning the angels
away from the orthodoxy of facades.
I reach for the peppershaker
on my spice rack and recall all the pimps
of Chelsea and all the Johns on Wall Street.
I see joggers in the street and they remind me
of my most treasured liaisons.
Some men are simply malefic and fall
through your window, wanting to be a part
of something good.

On Cocoa Beach

I am revisiting the idea of Florida, giving my vertebrae
a vacation from all the faded bouquets of urine in New York
and the darkened policies of snow in Vermont.
I am revisiting the idea of my wife’s imperial gaze;
her three-cheese quiche and fluted mimosas
are the masters of my mornings.
I am revisiting the idea of lawn furniture.
By late afternoon on Sunday my face blossoms
like a passion of lilies as I admire the spectral grace
of the sandhill crane or am caught lost thinking of Castillo
de San Marcos and the first people Timucua.
I am revisiting the idea of light and laughter and skin,
half-transported by wind. I like to think of myself
beside the crepe myrtle pondering the logos
of palm leaves and the kindnesses of beaches.
You can have your sororities of pain and darkened subways.
I will give myself to the great battles of clouds and surfs.

Major Jackson
Photo © Erin Patrice O'Brien

Major Jackson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Holding Company (Norton: 2010). A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he is the Richard Dennis Green & Gold Professor at the University of Vermont. He serves as the poetry editor of the Harvard Review.