Thursday, October 04, 2007


Some Poems by Poets from the Caribbean

"Brief Lives"

Gardening in the Tropics, you never know
what you'll turn up. Quite often, bones.
In some places they say when volcanoes
erupt, they spew out dense and monumental
as stones the skulls of desaparecidos
-- the disappeared ones. Mine is only
a kitchen garden so I unearth just
occasional skeletons. the latest
was of a young man from the country who
lost his way and crossed the invisible
boundary into rival political territory.
I buried him again so he can carry on
growing. Our cemeteries are thriving too.
The latest addition was the drug baron
wiped out in territorial competition
who had this stunning funeral
complete with twenty-one-gun salute
and attended by everyone, especially
the young girls famed for the vivacity
of their dress, their short skirts and
even briefer lives.

--Olive Senior

* * *

"Leaving the Coast"

Leaving the coast behind,
tastebuds still tied to the
sea's salt-heavy hand
will feel the bland of absence
as familiar coastlines fade

Travelling through the unseasoned air
of inner spaces, tastebuds may kick
against resolutions to steer inwards
as mouths flooded with longings
for the old dishes draw steps backwards

To find the centre,
tastebuds must learn to live
in the absence of accustomed flavours,
and practice the art of relearning
to taste life without the pleasures of salt

--Jennifer Rahim

* * *

"Driving Through Kingston"

alias "Cisco Kid" and "Tiger"
bully their rights of passage through
barefoot handcart boys burning
callouses for brakes. Under
sagging power lines blue
with old man's beard hedges
crushed in the embrace of love bush,
lips orange, keep on kissing
while grass like lightning
zigzags down the cracked unlevel sidewalks.

Bougainvilleas flame their murals
on flaking whitewashed walls
with such incendiary blooms
the air is singed with purple.
Random mango trees lounge lazily
in yards enclosed with fences
out of plumb, lurching like files
of drunken soldiers to the sea—
nothing perpendicular or square,
even the horizon bent.

No wonder our foreign policy
is non-aligned, our art
an anti-architecture
of angles right at eighty-nine
degrees, pedestals an inch
too short, corners inclined
to argue where to meet.

In the white heat black faces
drip blue sweat and melt into themselves,
pulling shades over their eyes.
Such resignation burns
deeper than anger or is the peace
that passes understanding. Or worms.

--Ralph Thompson

* * *

"Lime Cure"

I'm filling my house with limes
to keep away the evil spirits.
I'm filling my house with limes
to help me cope.
I have limes on the counters, under the sink,
inside the wash basin.
My refrigerator is stuffed with limes
(there's no long any space for meat and potatoes).
Faking onionship, they hang from the walls.
Like golf balls, they have the run of the carpet
(but I would not drive them away).

I stash them in flowerpots.
I put them on bookshelves.
I keep them on my desk, cuddling with my computer.
I have two limes in every drawer of every chest
of every room.
I don't bathe, I marinade.

At night, I think of their cores, plump and wet.
I imagine myself taking off the peel and squeezing
until they burst in my hands.
I taste the tart juice dripping on my tongue.
I shudder.
Then I sleep peacefully inside green dreams of lime
and when I wake, I bask in the morning's lime light.

Were it not for limes, I would not know
what to do with myself.
I could not bear this loneliness.
I would burst. But there is a wisdom in limes, an uneventfulness
that soothes my seething, and whispers to me:
think, be still, and think some more,
and when night arrives, dream of juice.

--Gustavo Pérez-Firmat

* * *

"At Dawn Beach"

We soon decide they are lovers:
an older man
whose hair retreats
from his forehead
like shy waves abandoning the shore
and a second, younger and blond,
who sits close and cocky in
trunks slick as a black spill.

The older dons a towel bunched
like rabbit ears
to protect his tanned and oiled head,
then bends to wipe sand from his small toes.
The youth watches, his face
a jumpy portrait of ambivalence--
with that mixed look of
love and impatience only old friends
and spouses wear.
He presses one firm finger
into his old lover's arm
--leaving a white spot the size of a dime--
and points.

The light in the Antilles is strong
so what they stare at we soon see:
a thin-necked bird--white--
with a pointed orange beak.
The bird walks on two sticks-for-legs
across a spot of green foliage,
carefully moving first one foot then the other
toward the sand that slopes to the sea.
His steps press the leaves lightly
as the local Passaat breeze,
leaving barely a trace.

My husband and I glance at each other,
and before we return to our books
our heads turn as one down the beach
where men thrust umbrella poles into white sand
and women's bare breasts flop like burst balloons
upon their burning bodies.

They all want what we want--and what our two
lovers want--but seem to show it more.
Even a gentle touch can leave a firm white
print, the bruise of a coin in the heart.

Donna Baier Stein

* * *

"Praise to the mother of Jamaican art"

She was the nameless woman who created
images of her children sld away from her.
She suspended her wood babies from a rope
round her neck, before she ate she fed them.
Touched bits of pounded yam and plantains
to sealed lips, always urged them to sip water.
She carved them of wormwood, teeth and nails
her first tools, later she wielded a blunt blade.
Her spit cleaned faces and limbs; the pitch oil
of her skin burnished them. When woodworms
bored into their bellies she warmed castor oil
they purged. She learned her art by breaking
hard rockstones. She did not sign her work.

--Lorna Goodison

* * *

"Bilingual Sestina"

Some things I have to say aren't getting said
in this snowy, blond, blue-eyed, gum-chewing English:
dawn's early light sifting through persianas closed
the night before by dark-skinned girls whose words
evoke cama, aposento, suenos in nombres
from that first world I can't translate from Spanish.

Gladys, Rosario, Altagracia -- the sounds of Spanish
wash over me like warm island waters as I say
your soothing names: a child again learning the nombres
of things you point to in the world before English
turned sol, tierra, cielo, luna to vocabulary words --
sun, earth, sky, moon. Language closed

like the touch-sensitive morivivi whose leaves closed
when we kids poked them, astonished. Even Spanish
failed us back then when we saw how frail a word is
when faced with the thing it names. How saying
its name won't always summon up in Spanish or English
the full blown genie from the bottled nombre.

Gladys, I summon you back by saying you nombre.
Open up again the house of slatted windows closed
since childhood, where palabras left behind for English
stand dusty and awkward in neglected Spanish.
Rosario, muse of el patio, sing in me and through me say
that world again, begin first with those first words

you put in my mouth as you pointed to the world --
not Adam, not God, but a country girl numbering
the stars, the blades of grass, warming the sun by saying,
Qué calor! as you opened up the morning closed
inside the night until you sang in Spanish,
Estas son las mananitas and listening in bed, no English

yet in my head to confuse me with translations, no English
doubling the word with synonyms, no dizzying array of words
-- the world was simple and intact in Spanish --
luna, sol, casa, luz, flor, as if the nombres
were the outer skin of things, as if words were so close
one leftg a mist of breath on things by saying

their names, an intimacy I now yearn for in English --
words so close to what I mean that I almost hear my Spanish
heart beating, beating inside what I say en inglés.

--Julia Alvarez

* * *

"Immortal Turtle"

As my father slipped from the surface
he became graceful as a porpoise
nosing his way into the illegible
Caribbean's clear blue water.

The turtle he longed to touch,
had lodged in his head as a youth
sitting in the green house where he kept
a turtle against his mother's wishes.

Knock-kneed, chubby, nicknamed after
a gold fish whose luster
was closer to copper, Grubious,
my father's mind was an aquarium

filled with Geographic images of turtles
whose shells were the color of sea glass
smoothed by a million invisible chances.
Now the center of my father's mind

is a cathedral window, the pattern of a great sea
turtle imagined to be immortal, swimming
from unknown depths to visible shallows
to lay its eggs beyond the brain coral.

James Lowell

* * *

"Sea Canes"

Half my friends are head.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.

Tonight I can snatch their talk
from the faint surf's drone
through the canes, but I cannot walk

on the moonlit leaves of ocean
down that white road alone,
or float with the dreaming motion

of owls leaving earth's load.
O earth, the number of friends you keep
exceeds those left to be loved.

The sea canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring moonlight, further than despair,
strong as the wind, that through dividing canes

brings those we love before us, as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just here.

--Derek Walcott

* * *

"Rootstocks and Cuttings"

The power line's down, its plume of voltage
bright as a ginger flower.
Wind keening on the zinc roof's edge.
Cannonades of breadfruit,
pawpaw, calabash,
as though a galleon stood offshore.
Lianas of rain, rain like a beaded curtain
someone has just hurried through.

On her kitchen table a candle
builds its blunt ruins.
She's been working a needle, bright thread
and darning egg through the hours,
but now she stops and listens to
a sound within all the other sounds.

He is coming up the path again
with rootstocks and cuttings and their wisdom
kept alive for her on the schooner
he shipped aboard: those four o'clocks
from Antigua, their taproot a poultice;
or from the Grenadines, hollowstalk mint
that grinds to a headache powder;
or the bay spurge of Tortola,
its lozenge root laid under the tongue
against wakefulness.

He is calling her name now
and wants to tell her about an Arawak cave
he found on the slopes of Mt. Misery,
its walls covered with petroglyphs
carved out of dreams and visions: the deities
of crop-over, hunting, childbirth,
and in streaming plumage, Huracán.

Leaving the anchorage that last time
with bolts of cloth for Grenada
thirty years ago, the light as he waved
caught the sea scars on his hands,
those pale markings that she always
laughed to tell him were the color
of freshly-opened sugar apples.

He took her life in his hands . . .
then a squall in the Dominica Passage,
and the sea wove a hundred colors together.

What does her soup ladle brim with
in this torn candlelight?
Caulking pitch from the careenage?
Bone? She remembers
the first hurricane after his death,
how she wanted to be taken
if the god would have her.

The flower garden holds deep,
so she dreams herself among those voyage roots
and all their returnings.

Thomas Reiter

* * *

"Shook Foil"

The whole earth is filled with the love of God.
In the backwoods, the green light
is startled by blossoming white petals,
soft pathways for the praying bird
dipping into the nectar, darting in starts
among the tangle of bush and trees.
My giddy walk through this speckled grotto
is drunk with the slow mugginess
of a reggae bass line, finding its melody
in the mellow of the soft earth's breath.
I find the narrow stream like a dog sniffing,
and dip my sweaty feet in the cool.
While sitting in this womb of space
the salad romantic in me constructs
a poem. This is all I can muster
before the clatter of school-children
searching for the crooks of guava branches
startles all with their expletives and howls;
the trailing snot-faced child wailing perpetual --
with ritual pauses for breath and pity.
In their wake I find the silver innards of discoarded
cigarette boxes, the anemic pale of tossed
condoms, the smashed brown sparkle of red Stripe
bottles, a melange of bones and rotting fruit,
there in the sudden light of noon.

How quickly the grandeur fades into a poem,
how easily everything of reverie starts to crumble.
I walk from the stream. Within seconds
sweat soaks my neck and back, stones clog my shoes,
flies prick my flaming face and ears;
bramble draws thin lines of blood on my arms.
There is a surfeit of love hidden here;
at least this is the way faith asserts itself.
I emerge from the valley of contradictions,
my heart beating with the effort, and stand looking
over the banking, far into Kingston Harbour
and the blue into grey of the Caribbean Sea.
I dream up a conceit for this journey
and with remarkable smugness it fits;
this reggae sound: the bluesy mellow
of a stroll on soft, fecund earth, battling the crack
of the cross stick; the scratch of guitar,
the electronic manipulation of digital sound,
and the plaintive wail of the grating voice.
With my eyes closed, I am drunk with the mellow,
swimming, swimming among the green of better days;
and I rise from the pool of sound, slippery with
the warm cling of music on my skin,
and enter the drier staleness of the road
that leads to the waiting city of fluorescent lights.

--Kwame Dawes

* * *

"Frail Deposits"
For Wilson Harris

3. Bone Flute

'This your son?' enquires the curator
As we waltz in for our official tour.

You finger the thousand year flute of bone
As if about to burst out in a tune.

You tell how the bone came from an enemy,
Morsels of whose flesh is consumed by them.

When air is blown into the fashioned bone,
The enemy's knowhow and plans are summoned.

The flute I'm trying to blow a tune on
Belongs to you, got by me over years from

Stringing your thoughts sentence by sentence,
Or what must stand for you in your absence:

Having to check when I've said something
To see if it's your since it has your ring.

--Fred D'Aguiar

* * *

"Fellow Traveller"

You hear the rain crossing the valley?
You know it will strike us quite soon?
You know how this damn roof is leaking?
Well, of course you must know.
for you holed it yourself
when the wind start to blow
on the day that you said
the damn walls hold you in
and you feel like you dead
and you gone on the roof there, to dance.

You said how you were sure
if you climbed right up high
felt the sun right above you,
your hair in the sky,
you would see far far.
That the walls block you up,
that the walls 'paw' you in
and you danced and you laughed.

Now, I was afraid you would fall down.
You said No, and, So what if I do?
Is just safety you want?
I have things I must see
and I can't keep on thinking about you.

But you knew I would stay here inside it.
You knew I would wait for you.
Now I wait and have waited and will wait
but my dancer, the rain's coming in,
and you see how that big storm is brewing?
Where's my shelter?
I drowning again?

You see you, dancer,
big smile on your beautiful mouth?
You see you, seeker?
Fix the roof.
Or I is moving out.

--Jane King

* * *

"To a Daughter"

He never hoped for you, he never not:
it was you who gave birth to a father.

A baby, you wanted often to play
with the only friend you had all day long

but the drug of Work would pull him away
to a desk, piano, easel or stove.

If he felt you were keeping him from other
life like salt running out, he might bark

Leave me alone, in the anger of fear,
and would feel his voice quiver your spine.

But you never stopped running to embrace
him, teaching how gratuitous is love.

Your father's love for you, shadowed by pain,
clouded by duty, was never as free.

Yet though you're now 'tall as a lantern-post,'
you still sit on his knee and hug his neck;

but that he once frightened you still frightens him
shoud he snap Leave me alone, meaning now Don't.

--Brian Chan

* * *


I like fresh flowers around the house.
The faint cloying sweetness of their brief
colourful life. No plastic blooms
or deceitful silks. Like Ama Ata,
I say: "No fake flowers at my funeral."

Flowers in the garden have to survive me.
I'm not a gardener like my mother.
She used to potter in the earth,
digging for peace and sanity.
My husband potters the same way.

He wants to farm, but never has time.
I find pumpkins in the bougainvillaea,
pawpaw in the ginger lilies,
spinach in the bed of impatience
and hibiscus with pigeon peas.

It's a good marriage, body and soul.
I think I prefer neat pretty beds,
but rumpled pigeon peas
and rambling passion fruit
tend to engulf the heliconia.

Still the hibiscus opens to the light.
With pigeon peas we survive the night.

Margaret Watts

* * *

"Lexicon of Hollow Gourds"

in each a memory, dark, coiled, pearls tucked in for the night,
and each night,
with the moon's music, they awaken
from their slumber, they rise & ask for coffee,
speak of what each has dreamt: a father,
leaving, his wide back to the door,
a child perched on the sofa's armrest,
they dress in the best clothes, as though they were going to a funeral,
they shine their shoes, tuck kerchiefs into pockets,
look at their faces one more time
in the mirror, smile to check their teeth,
on their way out,
they don't wave goodbye,
don't lock the door, in fact, leave the door
open, get in their cars, and turn forever at the corner.
Some do return though, because they miss their concave lives,
and each night,
before they go back to sleep,
they say a prayer for the worn, for the lost,
for the unremembered,
my grandmother drank her espresso out of cut gourd,
a little handle riveted to its smooth side,
a way for her finger to worm through,
and she'd say she loved the taste of sweet coffee in her gourd,
how each night,
she thought she could hear
the ghostly echoes of the rain falling,
telling its story of how some travel, how some
become refugees in their own countries.

Virgil Suarez

I always look forward to these posts, coming back and again to re-read. I actually salivated my way through 'Lime Cure' and found 'Hisbiscusand pigeonpeas' very witty. I feel like I've been on vacation somewhere really warm, wet and windy - thanks!
Glad you enjoyed them. "Lime Cure" is one of my favorites in this group; I like it so much I've ordered a collection of Gustavo Pérez-Firmat's work. If you're interested in continuing the vacation, you might try The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse edited by Stewart Brown & Mark McWatt (2005) and the Caribbean Writer website, which has an online archive of much of the work published there:

And congratulations on Kairos.
Cheers H - thanks for the recommendation, will pop that in my Amazon basket toute suite and check out that link!

And thanks for your warm wishes on Kairos :)
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