Six Poems


Cynthia James

St. Augustine, Trinidad W.I.

Copyright © 2000 by Cynthia James, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

Caribbean Writing 2000 -- (for Caribbean Students only)
(Transcribed from the notice board in an empty lecture room at
UWI, St. Augustine)

Requirements: Brand new writing tools (no postmodem/
Sycoraxian models, please).
Prerequisite: Caribbean Writing 1900 -- Familiarity with
Caribbean literature, particularly the writing of your own country
so that you will know what has been covered. Since presenting old
portfolios (cheating/plagiarism) is a notifiable breach of copyright,
serious writers should be guided by the following:

(1) Forbidden words and subjects: Middle passage/s,
slave, ancestor; Columbus in chains and Columbus roaming free;
divided to the vein, the primoridal vortex; the Sisyphean dream.
Be wary of the sea. It can drag the unsuspecting to literal
(2) Familial Excesses (Categorically forbidden):
Mother/father/son/ tantie-nennen-cousin poems. Caribbean 1900
is chock full, too, of sister, brother, grandmother, birth, and
relative poems of all "pong" kin. If tempted to write in this
vein, consider sending a postcard. Over the past ten years, there
have also been sufficient ironed blouses, stones that will not
roll, and I-want-a-man poems. Other related topics: women's
bottoms, "longtime" childhood and sundry poverty romances.
(3) The Naming Syndrome and Other Cultural Excesses:
Caribbean 1900 has struggled valiantly with the naming process,
suffering laudable effusiveness: O Mango Bascapool, O Pomerac,
O Silk Cotton Tree, O Fatpork! New information come to hand suggests,
however, that the bushfires of Caribbean love have raged into
decimating wildfires. Pet-name bearing trees, customs, etc.
are no longer "the real McCoy." Prospective writers are therefore
asked to trust tourist paraphernalia and the names of newly built
highways as proof that cultural forms did indeed once flourish. In
short, enough fake memento and pimento poems.
(4) Shadows/Valleys/Oceans Already Adequately Explored:
The Garden of the Ancestors viz. the voyage across the Kala Pani
and back; the flying jaunt back to Guinea with or without a
corncob in the armpit; the unforgettable Valley of Tears,
Kingdoms of Sorrows and Hellesponts of Suffering; metamorphosed
Legends of Greece and Rome (c.f. Omeros); Adam's
Garden; mixed and matched holocausts/enslavements (c.f. D'Aguiar
and Phil/lips); Anansi's multifarious kumblas and trickster
(5) Customizing Practices: In this computer age (a cliché
that must not appear in your work
) it has become necessary to
construct a policy against the abuse of the fanciful, calculatedly
designed to pass as true creativity. You are particularly warned about
writing the undecipherable and thereafter seeking artful ways of
explaining it. Tribute exceeding all bounds has already been
paid to the radical imagination.

Further miscellaneous customizing (literary dawdling):
(a) The landscape option: Turning the page sideways,
upside down, horizontally, and/or scribbling in the margins:
Marlene has already done it. Any further incursions will be
deemed deliberate attempts to strain the facilitator's eyes, will
be considered "trifling" in the African American sense, and
will be ignored.
(b) Pseudo-creativity and other forms of time/paper
Writing one word per page and or enlarging/
experimenting with indistinguishable fonts. Those who find
themselves from past experience inclined to play with their
computers are advised forthwith that they are in the wrong
course. This worthy re-direction also applies to those tempted
to even more creative stunts like inserting mirrors, pieces of
foil, reflectors in texts. This is no longer considered cute
(c.f. Divina Trace).

A Note on the Vernacular: It has been brought to our
attention that since the 1970s a vast illiteracy has overwhelmed
Caribbean art, masquerading under various guises as the folk/
Creole/Antillanité. The nostalgic are urged to reference
Lonely Londoners/Miss Lou. For updated versions male and
female, see WoA and Crick Crack Monkey. Unlike Earl,
who is always in and out, Merle is not going anywhere. Consult
her Ph.D. thesis.

A Special Caveat on Printing: Since the escapades of the
infamous Cynthia James, it has become necessary to be tough with
printing aka desktop publishing. Vainglorious work can no
longer be allowed to prostitute Caribbean writing. Unpermitted
printing will be black-balled with a System Error Seal. N.B.:
It is no excuse to cite the names of greats who have got away
With it under various guises.

Words for the Enterprising: It is anticipated that in
the first stages of this course, there will be an urge to think
that the here-and-now (Y2K) is special and that you are engaged
in something that has never been done before. Be mindful that
millennia are destined to come and go. Therefore, avoid verbal
embarrassments such as: in this new millennium, in year 2000,
in the year of the beast.

A Special Welcome for the Male Writer (at the risk of Incurring
Invigorated Female Attack):
We recommend that young men take
up the challenge of Allison Hinds and "go bring [their] needle."
Hounded as you are, even in the corrals of dub and rap, it is
hoped that you realize you must prepare to make a stand somewhere--

Expectations: Caribbean Writing 2000 is an elective.
Don't expect to become famous or earn money from it. The
prospective writer who remains still confused or harboring doubts
is free to leave. There is no shame. Nobody will know.
An add/drop slip is not needed. Those intending to stay,
however, Go Brave.

(with apologies to W. B. Yeats)

Crossing and recrossing the narrowing passage
black star liners sail to and fro
toms beat out for sons once sold
fresh arrivants seek sanctuary in the New World
things no longer fall apart: Trinidad Aids Botswana;
Wendy crowns Mpule - Miss Universe - the center holds
surely some second coming is at hand
some reparation is at hand;
Reparation! Second coming!
When suddenly a vast ouracan rampages out of
Guinea pelting trades across Barbados
shoring driftwood, seaweed lace and strangled buoys
And I know three centuries of troubled sleep
were vexed to nightmare by old enticements

for what new fangled beast dares come to buy and sell again
ignoring the ancient Twi proverb?

so I lay to rest cities
their misery, their constant infidelity
no more to swim in troughs like
cultured tilapia in PVC fish ponds;
it is evening: the parrots return
speaking gossip speaking scorn
over graveyards of telecommunication
crosses underpasses overpasses
shortcutting life die-loaded lead-loaded
on exhausted lung: this is not an afterlife
I may not know the sea, but
I know by heart the village;
so in the name of mother first of all

La Vega

you took her in before she was afraid and frail and now she
is afraid and frail you take her in again into your bodega:
wipe the tears from her eyes that she may see the beauty
that has sustained her all these centuries long

you took her toil in under the crimson lookout of the
mammy sepote: she brought you flowers, pink and white
moussianda to grace your roadside garden: now she has
time to crochet pine patterns for her doilies it does not
matter that her eyes are forlorn

it is a mistake to think that fidelity is measured in age and
service: the quarrels are the same as at the beginning: ask
Diego who lost his tongue

she scours her cooking pot with charcoal ashes from the
outed fire: death steels a promise from the polished mirror:
tomorrow the iron pot goes back on the fire for the
neverending boil

in the evening she comes home to ashes on her pillow: a
bushfire raged all day while she was gone: it could have
burnt down her house but it didn't: she considers herself
never too old to be warned

a prayer with her hands is the work of creation; she takes
time to pray with her hands; every day she prays a creation

she listens to her breath: it was some where before: she
listens to what it says: she wants to make sure it is worth
listening to when she sends it along

the only birds that caw here are raucous parrots that mock
time's lassitude: stretch marks lengthen as cloud tells sky
about wrinkled skin: only the desert sand knows what the
measure of a millennium is and how long

nothing here sleeps: everything is waiting to be born: the
grass is greener in the morning: death hides at the root
under the colour of the shoot: the earthworm does not come
up and each day is newborn

every night is the night before the first day: things are not
lost or forgotten because they are picked like an ear of corn

do you remember the thimble? the cocoa needle and the
cocoa knife are blunt; the grooves of the garden file are
covered with rust: everything is old yet the labour of living
is not lost

the bamboo holds secrets for the river Miriam knew when
she parted the reeds and hid Moses in the basket: crayfish
go under the stones when the talking Oropuche floods her

the aloe vera, the truthbearer still flowers its sword of
bitterness: in the morning she slips a sliver down her throat:
all through the day it makes her sorrows seem small

the wonder-of-the-world is heartshaped: pressed moist it
roots: it makes a poultice and draws inflammation from the
wound: take care it dries, then green blood no longer pumps

shamefire burns, but folly commits not to ashes: cinders
fuel and unwatched flare up: she warns me to be careful:
shame warms well from experience, but folly, folly can
burn a house down

what hurts she knows: but what is love, and where to find
endurance, she still searches: those secrets either no one
knows or who knows has never told

what she knows she knows: she can do these things with her
eyes closed: now she begins to understand new things, her
time is up

yet there is nothing new but it is old, just put together
differently: she desires the sacrament, the sacrament of
remaking, when she goes back to the old

yellow is the colour of lamplight: lamplight contains the
evening: yellow is the colour of sunlight, her eyes have
seen lamplight and sunlight: both have made them strong

eyes washed with breastmilk see as clear as the newborn's:
dewdrops from the tip of the leaf are tears from the eyes of
the earth: she puts them both in my eyes so that when my turn
comes they have been washed all along

memory is her wine cask ripening the perpetual fall of fruit:
the pomerac, the cerise, the hogplum: fruit she wouldn't set
to table yet she knows the sweetest and rottenest and the
most reliable and plentiful make the best wines of all

my father loved my mother
to distraction long after we were born
and everyone would admit
that that is rare

he made her coconut cakes
and bought her paradise plums (three for a cent)
rounding her cheeks
a prize he held so dear

and when she washed her hair
and it was dry and tangled
and she too tired to comb it
he made her sit

on a cushion
and while she dreamed
he set about with comb and brush
a wild plaiting

my mother loved my father too
it is my contention
two bluejeans so beyond compare
I have never seen

between sack and sheet
two mates did meet
and that's what love's about
I thought till I went out

and came near to destruction
my mother and my father flew
off to another kingdom
so much for love I search

but when I am tired
I go out to the garden wall
watch the bluejeans tweet beak to beak
and bask in their echo of reflection

a woman puts down her panier
before the threshold of her cottage
slides the doornail cross the doorpost
and hugs her twig collection;
red headtied in the chapel of her evening
the portrait of 'the lonely life'

far from glasglow pink on this side
white on that the oleander raises
fingertips clutching the same
sootened lampshade of the sky;
a woman stoops a plank of back
sets down her wire thickened hands

grandmother rocks in her falsetto of contentment
grandfather on the last rung of the step
to ease his poverty of prayer
invokes a cloud of incense
bats flit in flit out his garret
tallboots drag up the backsteps

the sly slit of a clam rises
sits high and smiles in secret,
watch her, watch her well
a child goes to bed in this house
in a shrimp curl of nightdress
save for the flutter of her temple
the whole world travels under her eyes,
draw the curtain lest the moon gild her hair
and wrap all her promise in the caul of cribdeath

you still found the caimite
a green one and a purple one
inside the pearl-white flesh, yet
you scaled the gum, shined the bruise of skin
looked over to the Government Quarters
now turned into a Community Centre
and lingered over the missing things

smooched the air for the absence of the soursop
standing in your shoes and wondering
why the weevil drills the tamarind
why Mr. Wolf (once it was only a game)
has eaten up past twelve o'clock though
your feet no longer stretch fast enough
to race to the safe end down the pitchwalk

time plays havoc on her watches
the galvanise on the tool shed is salted red
the balata and the tonca bean are dead
you went down to the beach:
the river no longer cuts straight out to the sea
people lie littering the water's edge
redcrab no longer run in fullmoon:
the 'mang' hangs thin like thread

under the silver bridge
the yellow river seeps in/continent
in yellow stagnant channels,
the 'rock of gibraltar' is further out
and to the right - not where you left it
you know another Salybia, perhaps
the tide was out the city people said;
and everywhere around the crusted sandpit
sulphur twisted out the mouth, dribbling

but salt your eyes
the morning still comes primrose
on a clean slate of wind,
pollen flails the razor arrow
and there, the fragile bois canot
the valley cleft in shadow
the ceiling of the mountain
even the sapodilla ripening
in the heat of the day and spoiling

so go if you have to go
the firetrace of the memory is enough
I will keep one: if only one tear of immortelle
the quilibee who asks nor fear nor favour to sing
mist boring the shoulder blade of the crabbed-back hill
the surprise of the roadside waterfall
the first flutter of endeavour in the mango blossom,
at the end of every yellow day's despair
pink twilight, live coal, the cooling ash of sunset,
and too, the sweat-washed face of a boy, a girl
journeying into the imagination of the mountain

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