Cruising for a Bruising

Adam Patterson

Sailors

He sat upon the rolling deck
Half a world away from home […]
And watched the blue waves tipped with foam[1]

We speak and kiss in conch, its inner ear a passage to our ‘elsewhere.’ I used to think my open secret pushed me here. It had always been your ebb; your persuasive tide drawing deep to salted thighs. Yes, you brought me here to your private beach, where my secret, a turtle egg, lays nested in your naval; you kept it all these years. It hatches every time I wade, run my fingers through your curls, become stiff and hot as a coucou stick floating in your mouth. You knew I couldn’t swim, or at least not far enough, so you always made sure to keep your door on latch in the corner of my eye. You lived there, in what I could see, my constant mirage of legs horizon-swung, waving me over to sit with you on that secluded sunken bench, where they couldn’t reach us, where they couldn’t see us, in the safety of a line. That resting thread would keep us together, bound to the hammer of the conch.

[…] sailors with large noses
Binocular the Atlantic[2]

You see my man of sorrows and raise me one of pleasures, dripped in stones of sweat and a salivating sea. It’s true, I’m fixated; my splayed stares of barnacle strewn across your surface, each mouth pursing pearls of risen pores. And yet, once a sailor, now a limpet, I can’t seem to reach you ever since my beard took root. Stranded, cradled by your fencing coral teeth; that damned smile runs me aground. How do you manage to come ashore? Upping my salted doorstep like a tolerant nightmare, you’re an indulgence of sea-grapes – precious, and covered in ants. Son of soucouyant who tricks my window’s pane, I won’t tell your mother of the life you give me. Each flight leaves me counting hours and rice grains. Sandfly in my eye, still tricking my hand, you’re the catch I only dream of; with every sunrise, deferred.

Tell them not to queer me.[3]

Between cool retreat and water torture, perhaps a devil’s flick of salt-hex found my eye. There must be something in the water; plenty goumangala astir. Foot treading water like an orphaned Christ, my fool’s rush could convince others the drownings were on sale. Bait in sight like angler stare, your flight hosts angels, your beak; a siren. I send my pyre floating, rum-gut upturned and dressed in mango stones; this flesh, my horizontal offering. Whether sunstroked or bewitched, consider my beard shaven and my limpets uprooted, if it means you’ll keep me harboured. I’ll tell them not to queer us, if you teach me how to swim.  

In your silence
Every tone i seek
Is heard.[4]

In this tide pool, our crucible of shared disgrace, if we soak for long enough, perhaps they won’t mistake us for cassavas. Despite the pitchfork stares, we were not a poison harvest. And, despite the village curse, we could be more than just a starving. Bury the Adam’s apple shared in our throats – manchineel is not a delicacy. Bursting the heads of floating terrors is a sport and, I can assure you, they are not playing. See me, vision’s skipper, sailor of lines, you whose coral polyps thread with lava, you who boils oceans, you, horizontal traitor of the cold of night-swims, you who feeds my fevered thirst for the cruise, who binds me to the sail and ties me to the mast. Deny me your hurricanes, your underwater eruptions, your red teeth grimaces and forbidding sandbars. Deny me embargos, storm-watches, seawalls and tremors. Deny me the tremble of a waterlogged craft and the irreverent curses of capsized fisherman. Deny me Sargassum and all these iceberg hauntings. Vapours, envision my safe passage in every tone I seek!

Deny me the conch shell’s obliterate silences.

Bikkel

“He did not like to play rough games. He did not like to fight. He did not like to stone dogs. And all this marked him early on as an easy target.”

– Audre Lorde, Man Child (1979)
Adam Patterson, Bikkel, digital video, 2019. Filmed by Kamali van Bochove. 

Who father teach me to fear the breach of my crossed arms’ horizon? Who son remembers when his fist first folded shut? Which boy laments the day he raised his shell up like gun turtle? What man knows something ‘bout soft things? What it does take to be tough? Learned cruelty?

STEUPSE

Man, don’t teach me no nonsense.

Though the grace of waves would raise us right, the girth of spikes would push us ‘part. Without embrace, we couldn’t brace that flood of manhood swollen in each of our hanging plantain peels. The dangle stiffens and keeps us distanced and we does walk funny from the brutish fruit between us. Who father teach me to hold a gun in my pocket and be happy to see woman beneath me and beneath everything else; beneath my sneaker, beneath my worth, beneath my trigger, beneath my concern? The only man’s eye that should weep is the mouth of his gun. Gun could weep and talk and chatter and clap and speak and it would certainly speak volumes on what I aimed to shoot for. For my thorns rose, shivered and melted for another man, and man certainly could not touch man lest he sought to fight man, lest he sought to harm man, lest he sought to kill man. In the construct of brute force, I was taught that my life depended upon the goodwill of man’s power.

Facing a spite-eyed Atlantic while craving the softness of water, each wave rose to meet me as a domino-smack of muscled hard-foot violence. His thrashes, these men of waves promised, touched me in fury but touched me nonetheless. Each wave announced his name – Shotta, Badman, Gallis – and wave after wave grew atop me from man-child seas of vengeful arousal. Boys had risen, men had fallen, just to beat the softness out of me.  Knowing these waves could never hold me, I’m sure they would crumble in flaccid froth if my hands ever dared to touch them back. In hunting pearls of pleasure from wades through fists and swims through bullets, man had reason to fear my sting. For being tempted to touch, some man tell me that, my skin should peel and burn up bad like old tyre wheel. And, so, fearing to touch, pushed further ashore by this warning current, my bones would tense and raise a fortress flesh from the husk of my now hushed soft boy pleasures. Eyes dried shut to impede my heartstrung aim and a brittle crown of thorns would keep me numb to those unsavoury arousals. No longer open, no longer vulnerable, no longer porous; all my mouths would close so love could never find itself in the spit of my prayers. 

Hardness would endure, though my coral body had dead and rot into limestone waste too long ago. My banana blossom spikes flanked men like happy daggers, though no stab could bleed joy from me. “There are myths of self-protection that hold us separate from each other and breed harshness and cruelty where we most need softness and understanding.” Tensed and tensed more in my tremble waned by waves, growing hard and brittle spikes, commanding hell, feigning strength, failing manhood, fear finds me in my loosened shield. The hard-shell urchin cannot be held tightly in the hands of lover or oppressor, lest it snap and shatter in the tension of a fist. Brittle bones and hard shells know no reflex or stretch and all my fortress flesh will shatter in both embrace and confrontation. Hardness can protect itself, but hardness cannot speak or be spoken to – all mouths close in the threat of being approached. I fear softness for all my fathers teach me so. To keep man knowing man is man, man must know nothing ‘bout soft things.

And after all my fathers beat my mouth swollen to a close, it took a mother to open me. She spoke soft and difficult words, words only heard by sponge, not spike. She grabbed me by the thorns and kneaded me to dough, and where spikes once reigned as fists of bone, spikes now bloomed as palms of sponge. Surrendering the bricks of stone forts and the brittle bones of sea urchins, this man doesn’t want to harden any more. Where spikes melt to sponge, where man is porous, man can be held, man can be loved and man can find power without the need to steal it. 

If I cannot love and resist at the same time, I will probably not survive.


[1] Langston Hughes, Sailor

[2] Langston Hughes, Seashore Through Dark Glasses

[3] Langston Hughes, Passing

[4] Langston Hughes, Silence

Image credit: Adam Patterson, Sailor (Still Life), from “Looking for ‘Looking for Langston’,” 2019.

Adam Patterson is a visual artist and writer based between Barbados, London & Rotterdam. Concerned with how stories, images and the gaze may affect, condition or re-imagine selfhood, Patterson likes telling new stories or rethinking old stories in new recuperative ways, working across a variety of media including masquerade, video, critical writing, poetry and performance. Patterson’s works have been exhibited at the Live Art Development Agency and Jerwood Space, London; the Barbados Museum & Historical Society and Fresh Milk Arts Platform, Barbados; Roodkapje, Rotterdam; Ateliers ’89, Aruba and Alice Yard, Trinidad & Tobago. Workshops have been facilitated at Tate Exchange, London and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam. Patterson’s writing has featured in Fresh Milk Arts Platform, ARC Magazine, Sugarcane Magazine and PREE. Patterson is a 2019 resident of the Hamburger Community of Art, Rotterdam.

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