Friday, May 15, 2009


More Poems by Caribbean Poets

The earlier Caribbean poems thread is here.

And the Caribbean literary journal tongues of the ocean is here.


Look him.  As quiet as a July river-
bed, asleep, an trim' down like a tree.
Jesus! I never know the Lord could
squeeze so dry.  When I was four
foot small I used to say
Grampa, how come you t'in so?
an him tell me, is so I stay
me chile, is so I stay
laughing, an fine
emptying on me --

laughing?  It running from him
like a flood, that old molasses
man.  Lord, how I never see?
I never know a man could sweet so, cool
as rain; same way him laugh,

I cry now.  Wash him.  Lay him out.

I know the earth going burn
all him limb dem
as smooth as bone,
clean as a tree under the river
skin, an gather us
beside that distant Shore
bright as a river stone.

-- Dennis Scott

* * *


Always it's moments glimpsed while journeying past.
A darkened hill beneath pale yellow sky.
A shivering sense of peace.  It does not last.

Soft smoke drifts slowly, seen through glass
and misty sheets of silvering rain pass by.
Always it's moments glimpsed while journeying past.

A jostling market crowd -- colours, shrill, fast --
vision evaporates without a sigh.
A shivering sense of peace.  It does not last.

A pale sun hangs above a blackened mast
a horror that the self itself will die.
Always it's moments glimpsed while journeying past.

An orange sun and pools of silvered purple cast
on glistening asphalt.  a sense of one -- not-I.
A shivering sense of peace.  It does not last.

A sense of home,of peace.  Driving too fast
seeking to lose a sense of sinking by . . .
Always it's moments glimpsed while journeying past.
A shivering sense of peace.  It will not last.

-- Jane King

* * *

"the air between us (for an expatriate)"

the air between us is like glass
when we speak, our words frost

as meanings mist over, i hear you
far off and muffled

I realise that you were shouting
when you walked past you were shouting
your head bent was a scream
that question about coffee was a yell that choked your throat

but you swallowed politely

well, you been swallowing so long
the fire in your belly must be out

for centuries now

that's why the air between us is so cold.

-- Kendel Hippolyte

* * *

"Birth is . . ."

Birth is too bloody; we resist the end
The throes, the after-birth, and after-care
Of child and mother.  Darkly unaware
We start the perfumed path whose sudden bend
At dawn to us reveals the unknown friend.
The agony of mother and child we fear,
We are solicitous, nor God nor air
We trust:  without security we will not lend
Our precious selves to poor posterity.
Suppose our seed to Faith should swell
And make demands upon our temerity!
Our throes like waves should dash the spell
That dreams ourselves the final verity
Against infinite shores to splintered shell.

-- John Figueroa

* * *

"Under These Stones"

This is the spot where the walls stood:
my father's father's house
destroyed by fire
where the smell of beet-red coffee berries filled the air
and the smoke went up in silence.

The house I visited, the year
my father could not bring his father back,
is now either a memory or thisk brambled pit,
the footpath to it overrun by leaf-of-life
whose stems we'd strip to make stick dolls.

Now, under these scorched foundation stones,
lies the unstirred clay steeped in grandfather's life:
a life I never knew.
No photograph from whicdh to root his face --
yet his nearness throbs
in the richness of a September noon.

Every memory must break somewhere --
the air palpable with the grace of a drinking hen
strutting to its nest with a promise to fulfill,
the clucking in the shadow of banana leaves
that glistened with morning dew --
no telling what time was or where it went --
the days replete with trees to climb.

-- Delores Gaunlett

* * *

"Country Dance"

Those country folk dancing a schottische
to shac-shac and fiddle in the one-room
schoolhouse-cum-village hall
are not concerned with origins.
Miss Bibsy leads, rakish
in Sam's battered fedora.
Unstaid her sweep and bounce
of buttock.  Read Africa.

We had come seeking the true folk
the immaculate idea untouched by irony,
and what could be truer than Bibsy's
callused heel stamping its assurance
on this hard ground?
Night, rolling in from the Atlantic
washes over the island
re-enacting migrations.
The sea's complaint is the sigh of the tribes.
And in the pause between two breakers
was that a skirl of bagpipes?
Doan worry bout dat, Sammy boy,
Scotlan is a districk in Barbados
from where, on a clear day, if you eye clean
you can make believe you seein the golden shores.
Night, rolling in from the Atlantic
washes over the island.
Later, picking my way
down the hill
in the dark
the music bounces in my head
like light.

-- Edward Baugh

* * *


Last year the child died
we didn't mourn long
and cedar's plentiful

but that was the one
whose navel-string we buried
beneath the tree of life

lord, old superstitions
are such lie.

-- Olive Senior

* * *

"Sugar Cane"

The succulent flower bleeds molasses,
as its slender, sweet stalks bend,
beheaded in the breeze.

The green fields convulse golden sugar,
tossing the rain aside,
out-growing the sun,
and carving faces
in the sun-sliced panorama.

The reapers come at noon,
riding the cutlass-whip;
their saliva sweetens everything
in the boiling season.

Each stem is a flashing arrow,
swift in the harvest.

Cane is sweet sweat slain;
can in labour, unrecognized, lost
and unrecovered;
sugar is the sweet swollen pain of the years;
sugar is slavery's immovable stain;
cane is water lying down,
and water standing up.

Cane is a slaver;
cane is bitter,
very bitter,
in the sweet blood of life.

-- Faustin Charles

* * *

"Farewell to a Jovial Friend"

The shouldered box has nested deep,
The pallid bearers turned to weep
Their friend's cold sleep.
Who mourns his laugh
Curtails by half
The drabness of November.

The caged, carmine bud of lust
Mounded in splendour bows to dust;
Here rest, not rust.
This kiln bright clay
May rise to play
A song that's far from sombre.

Eternity begins to hone
The marrow in each seamy bone --
We die alone.
Dearth in the grain
Attunes our strain
For use as seasoned timber.

-- Gloria Escoffrey

* * *

"Catching Crabs"

Ruby and me stalking savannah
Crab season with cutlass and sack like big folk.
Hiding behind stones or clumps of bush
Crabs locked knee-deep in mud mating
And Ruby, seven years old feeling strange at the sex
And me horrified to pick them up
Plunge them into the darkness of bag.
So all day we scout to catch the lonesome ones
Who don't mind cooking because they got no prospect
Of family, and squelching through the mud,
Cutlass clearing brush at our feet,
We come home tired slow, weighed down with plenty
Which Ma throw live into boiling pot piece-piece.
Tonight we'll have one big happy curry feed,
We'll test out who teeth and jaw strongest
Who will grow up to be the biggest
Or who will make most terrible cannibal.

We leave behind a mess of bones and shell
And come to England and America
Where Ruby hustles in a New York tenement
And me writing poetry at Cambridge,
Death long catch Ma, the house boarded up
Breeding wasps, woodlice in its dark-sack belly:
I am afraid to walk through weed yard,
Reach the door, prise open, look,
In case the pot still bubbles magical
On the fireside, and I see Ma
working a ladle, slow --
Limbed, crustacean-old, alone,
In case the wood-smoke and curry steam
Burn my child-eye and make it cry.

-- David Dabydeen

* * *


In the waiting room
a routine checkup
a technician came in
called me by what
she made my name
I didn't answer but knowing
it was I, mumbled
and made my way
in a pace of my own
in a tempo earned
from struggle and long places
of silences
I no longer engage words
or meanings such as 
Mistress Miss Mrs Missus

rhymes with distress

missed nothing

misses rarely with words

miss us, ourselves
when we answer to words
others name us

-- Lillian Allen

* * *


Quick as light:
Skin shine,
Bone white.

-- Ian McDonald

* * *

"Letter from Mama Dot"

You are a traveller to them.
A 'West Indian working in England';
Or Friday, Tonto or Punkawallah
Sponging off the state.  Our languages
Remain pidgin like our dark, third,
Underdeveloped world.  I mean their need
To see our children cow-eyed and pot-bellied,
Grouped or alone in photos and naked,
The light darkened between their thighs . . .
And charity's all they give:  the cheque
Once in a blue moon, when guilt's
A private monsoon, posted to a remote
Part of the planet they can't pronounce.
They'd like to keep us there.
Not next door, your house propping-up
Theirs; your sunflowers craning over
The fence, toward a sun falling
On their side; begonias that belong
To them shouldering through its tight
Staves; whilst their roots mingle.
So when they skin lips to bare teeth
At you, remember it could be a grimace
In another setting:  the final sleep
More and more of us meet in our prime,
(Your New Cross fire comes to mind);
Who dream nowadays of peace.
You know England, born there, you live
To die there, roots put down once
And for all; the same England brought
With them, though ageless, unseasonable.
Drop me a line soon, you know me,
Neva see come fo see . . .

-- Frederick D'Aguiar

* * *

"The  tragedy of the mermaid"

is not that she must leave her home
but that she must cast off her flesh.
To  love, she must lose scales as a child
relinquishes dolls to youth;
she must hide the shells
she plants beneath her tongue,
culling her dreams;
she must stop the tide rising
in her breath each night;
she must stem the scent of salt
seeping from her skin.
Touching her shrivelled face,
she must not feel an ocean
falling from her eyes.

--Shara McCallum

* * *

"Peelin Orange"

Dem use to seh
yu peel a orange
an yu get new clothes

But when mi father try
fi teach me
slide de knife
up to de safeguard thumb

I move de weapon like
a saw inna mi han
an de dyamn rind

An if yo have de time
yu can come see mi
in mi old clothes

-- Mervyn Morris

* * *

"I Expect an Orchid"

Sometimes today
I am an old tree
growing fungus
spreading slowly on my bark
a pink filigree, reaching slowly --
I cast no seeds.

I expect an orchid
to grow out of the pool
of one eye, though
Aged lianas coil around my neck
blocking my forests
Grow long in tendons
in my arms, and legs
and one day, slowly, slowly
will root me
subsiding silently
to the earth

Till then, I dance, slowly, slowly
turning, still turning
from my grave
of space
still hoping, again
every hoping, once more
to fly . . .
I expect an orchid, any day, now . . .

-- Marina Ama Omowale Maxwell

* * *

For Nancy Morejon

To tell the truth
I used to think the word
meant some kind of fungus

like the mold that attacks bread,
something that survives a hostile
environment, no matter.

You say that the word
cannot embrace those Cubans
who left the island to seek

exile elsewhere, many in cold
places, that the word only app[lies
to the cruel punishment inflicted

on African slaves.  Okay.  but
I have seen Cubans everywhere,
scattered from Tierra del Fuego

to Iceland.  I have seen the ones
perishing in the snow, these wounded
fish and when I look into their eyes,

Nancy, like when I look into yours,
I see the possibility of reconciliation,
not the fixed gaze of hatred, but like mold

we have taken root where exile threw
us, like these persistent and determined
growths, we will prevail.  we hang on.

the longing in our faces cannot end
until both shores unite, yours and mine,
the sting of these subtle twists of definitions.

-- Virgil Suarez

* * *


sulk upon the rock;
black sand teems with stones.

in this green and black holiday place
death is a white fowl, strangled,
slapping the eye.

washes like a tide
over the mind . . .
Until at last a barb of guilt
harpoons these hours to his face.

For when his heart, driven before a gale
of loneliness, sought in our
 hearts a harbour and a home
no sign we gave
to anchor our compassion in his soul.

Not silence itself was our sin;
for touching hands
turn silence to a delicate
exquisite thing, beautiful
as the slender breath of a dawn campfire
on this beach; and eloquent
as a lone seagull's flight.

is tenderness usually late
or, if it does come,
frail as foam?

-- Judy Miles

* * *

"My Christian Friend"

She says she's going to give up sex for Lent,
because after what the Saviour went through,
it's the very least she can do to prove her faith.

So now she's praying for the strength
to keep her legs locked and that's all
she's been praying for.

She thought forty days was too long
so she said God will understand
if she's only strong for a month.

She knows sex before marriage is wrong,
so I ask her what will happen after the month.
After I've been on a diet for a week,
the following week I eat everything I find
that fits into the mouth.

God forbid if she opens her legs
the way I open my mouth.

She says it's the one month sacrifice
that will be written down in the big book,
so if all this works according to her plan
then the sin itself will be cancelled out
by the one month sacrifice.

I tell her isn't it nice that there's flexibility
in Christianity and the Bible is really just
a good book of poetry.

She says she hates it when I'm sarcastic
and I'll be really proud of her in the end,
that is, she says, if her oh so sexy man
doesn't wear his red shirt.

Just the thought of him in his red shirt
has her mumbling a prayer while we speak.

-- Tanya Shirley

* * *

"First Friday Bell"
. . . in memory of Mama who died suffering

The first Friday bell shatters the morning
and shuffling feet respond to the call

your dim, grey shape joins the procession
again pulling a dozen wagons which

are the churches you used to hurry to
filled with plaster saints and incantations,

you treasured them and kept bright shiny
beads while at death's door you lay pain wracked

and tortured, eaten away by some greedy
demon, your flesh falling off and melting

into air; and I could only watch you
mumble, eating your pain to spare me

no church no god seemed to help you and I
watched you with dread and admiration and

love and hate.  Yes, hate!  I hated your
suffering like Job or some dumb animal

there with nerves aquiver and sunken eyes
and painful submission to your loving

Maker.  How I wished to relieve you but
you were content to bite your teeth and ;hold

back the bitter tears while I looked helplessly
and admired you, pitied you, and loved you

and as the first Friday bell rings, I hear
your footsteps join the band of faithful and

your lips fluttering as you pass the beads
and drag your wagon-churches and I weep

-- Anson Gonzalez

* * *

"How we became the pirates"

In this country you have an accent;
in the pub, a woman mocks it.
You want to ignore her but wonder
how many hearts is she being bold for?
Hate in this place
is restrained as the landscape,
buried, usually, under a polite 'cheers, mate'.
And what a thing to mock --
the way we shape words differently.
But may be it's the old colonial hurt
of how we became the pirates, dark people
raiding English from the English,
stealing poetry from the poets.
So English poetry is no longer from england.
You swear -- Lady, if I start a poem
in this country
it will not be yours.

-- Kei Miller

* * *

"Pans at Carnival"

Steel voice of a steel god
commands the groined shuffle and shake
man beat man beat she hard
holy rum and roti host
up and down theprofane aisles
of this tin pan city
clinking clanking
pilgrimage in disguise
to cleanse the past from terror
and from fury what is to come
ringing in

the tympanum of a tin god
the blood hammering by heart
forges wrought shapes ofmusic
hot from gaudy steel
on the anvil of ancient passion
to roadmarch this tin pan city
clinking into the savannah
of its clanking nightmares
in honour of the black sun
bottled in one million groins
shaking out

the crumpled world of another year
wasted -- oh man hold she tight!
The world for forty-two hours caught
in the jsphere of a steel pan
with its continents embossed in tune
with its people one and divided
in he shuffle and jump-up
on he tin belly of some god
blessing with cane and cocoa
cursing with cutlass and pride
beating time

creation from oil drums
of a world of sweat and laboured
masks obeying the ten metallic
commandments revealed in burning
rhythms on a mountain of flesh
from which leave is to be taken
by a grand public ascent
clanging up Henry Street
down rum and roti
the steel god the groin the black
sun beat man beat man!

-- Henry Beissel

* * *
* * *

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Some Short Poems


Under the bed, I wait for you to drop your book.
One by one I will eat the pages, every word,
and I grow fat on your illiteracy, then
slither like an unvoiced question out the door.

-- Priscila Uppal

* * *

"Autumn Elegy"

Sumac, your running wild
In bad seasonal verse
Depresses me no longer.  Spelt anew
In the mind's mirror, child,
Your dark dry blood reverts
To that of the young demi-god Camus.

-- James Merrill

* * *

"Faint Autumn Murmurs"

The persimmons by the fence are tinted tart,
the cockscomb and the hollyhock are tinted scarlet:
so what tint am I, this autumn day?

Last year's gourd lies like a big fist in the garden,
the dipper's lying outside like a small fist:
so where should my fist best be laid?

-- So Chung Ju
translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taize

* * *


cut your losses and flee
my horoscope proposed the other day;

so here I have fled
to this anonymous spot
with all the other gullible Geminis of the world
for company.

I can tell these people anything,
I realized,
They'll believe anything.

-- Tony Towle

* * *

"A Blue Butterfly"

In May life is so lifelike
it can be deceptive.
Watch out, butterfly!  Don't sit

too long on that poppy.
Your blue wings weigh me down
with the white mountains you've come from.

-- Henrik Nordbrandt
translated from the Danish by Robin Fulton

* * *

"Dunn's River Falls"

The Falls thunder
their last hurrah
before the surrender to the sea.
What sound I wonder
would they make
if they flowed backward
to a calm, deep lake.

-- Ralph Thompson

* * *

"The Gymnast  Valeria Vatkina"

Legs counterposed like six o'clock, her stretch
is bowstave, sky foot to ground foot.  a point shoe tips each.

She leans out around herself the, and gazes
intently past her hand at what she blazes:

a switchback trail of rainbow ribbon
that climbs stairs of air to her whipped baton

and equally shimmies down landings of allure
right-left right-left like a Caliph's signature.

-- Les Murray

* * *


They were delicacy and grace.
But the ferocity, as well,
of a burning knot of rooftop cats.
They are young and they are dancing -- as beautiful
as dunes, wheat, mustangs.

-- Eugenio de Andrade
translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin

* * *

"See the Flies"

See the flies, delirious with joy,
our summer afternoons in tiled rooms
where roses part like thighs on polished sideboards
in houses we refuse to call our home;
see the flies, delirious with joy,
plunging blindly into fresh wounds.

Selima Hill

* * *

"The Ritz, Paris"

A slight thinness of the ankles;
The changed shape of the calf;
A place the thigh curves in
Where it didn't used to; and when he turns
A mirror catches him by surprise
With an old man's buttocks.

--Frederick Seidel

* * *


Corners of the linden yellow like grapes . . .
back in July leaves blew.  Rain wounds the window,
preoccupies the drainpipes, nourishes --
after a seemly interval -- the mould spots
in the cornices.  Stray nooses of wisteria
toss purposefully, aimlessly, who can say.

-- Michael Hofmann

* * *

"Secrets of the Estate"

Death may be the side of life's mansion
That's always been turned away from us --
But that hasn't kept us, now and then,
From sneaking around to the other side,
Where tall weeds grow over the broken statues,
And peeking in the windows.

-- Tom Clark

* * *

"At the Flea Market"

Someone's selling love
for no money, no lie.  No one
stops.  My lover
at the next stand
buys a golden ring.

-- Kerstin Hensel
translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

* * *

"The Hedgehog"

The garden is mysterious at night
And scented!  and scented!  in the night of stars.
The hedgehog snuffles somewhere among leaves,
Just by the arch-way.  So it is with time
-- Mute night and then a voice that says nothing,
Busying itself, complaining and insisting:
When this has end, silence will come again.

-- C. H. Sisson

* * *

"I Look Over The Scythes Before Mowing"

Used scythes
always shine,
never rust, although
I see these too are done.
Which is best, rusting unused in the box
or worn out by whetstone and rocky hay-patch?

--Olav H. Hauge
translated from the Norwegian by Robin Fulton

* * *
* * *  

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