The Anabasis of Godspeed

Ishion Hutchinson

Note: “The Anabasis of Godspeed” is excerpted from a book-length poem, School of Instructions. A memorial to the experience of West Indian soldiers serving in British regiments during World War I, the poem is also the narrative of Godspeed, a young boy living in rural Jamaica in the 1990s.

1.

Out of a rising bank of fever grass Godspeed emerged wearing

a rubber tree leaf mask. At the beginning of the month the

strength of the battalion stood 31 officers and 1010 other

ranks. He pretended he was Baruch. “Weep not” he shouted.

“Conquer and to conquering” he shouted. “Rejoice” he shouted.

This was near or outside AXUM or ATLANTIS or those

suicide goat cliffs near HECTORS RIVER by Happy Grove

where Horace leapt and became the Great Conjunction.

Then again at Christmas the boy’s hands were high with the

murder of sorrel. At the end of the month the strength of the

battalion stood 23 officers and 921 other ranks.

2.

Then proceeded to SHARTA to lay water pipes between first- and

second-line trenches. Here they were subjected to shellfire

and infantry attack without weapons for self-defense. Wild

butchery of souls blossomed in the desert.

It was pitch dark night in JANE ASH CORNER when Godspeed
     shook his jam jar of fireflies. Occasional sparks like fireworks
     going off faint and distant in the N. OF GAZA.

3.

No. 1391 Pte. J. Fisher “C” boy died pneumonia.

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

The battalion less “B” boy enchained for EL ARISH.

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

No. 134 Pte. A. M. Harper “D” boy died pneumonia.

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

“A” boy proceeded to No. 3 School of Military Aeronautics for

course in aviation. Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

No. 6898 Pte. Benn “C” boy died malaria.

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim. Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim.

4.

It was around this time he braided his dreadlocks into a thick

Horus lock and implemented a fixed fee to read the newspaper

in JANE ASH CORNER SQUARE. “I am troubled with my

head and cannot stand the sound of the guns” No. 2292 Pte.

Herbert Morris told the courts. “I reported to the Dr and he

gave me no medicine or anything.”

Summon these things for healing: a torn scarf self-hymned with

camphor and basil fading through fading saffron. A dress

intact on the clothesline awaits the shape of the breeze from

AMITY HALL. It was still pitch-dark night when Godspeed

shook his jam jar of fireflies and illuminated the woodworm

boards and desolate GOLGOTHA.

5.

And shuck off the strength accordingly. At Easter Godspeed ate

spiced bun and bilirubin cheese of Christ’s flesh and tissue and

drank rum spiked eggnog of the Lord’s blood.

Then marched to IPSAMBUL to see the Garden of Eden in the

cave there. Back at Happy Grove Godspeed inverted ZION

into noise. He also turned zero backwards to reveal the true

distance between MOUNT MEGIDDO and MOUNT ZION

for which General Lash the principal raked the beaded cat o’

nine tails over the boy’s palms.

Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. His awards include the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize, the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Originally published:
December 6, 2022

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