Abdhur Rahman Slade Hopkinson
GUYANA: FREEDOM YEAR
(NOTE: In the year 1962, all letters sent out by government departments in the then colony of British Guiana were stamped with the slogan ‘Freedom Year’, in anticipation of the achievement of independence. That year there were riots and arson in many parts of the country, and the Indians and the Africans, who together constitute the majority of the population, were more hostile to each other than ever before. That year, too, the government announced that the colony, after achieving its freedom, would be renamed Guyana. ‘Independence’, whatever that was intended to mean, whatever different interests intended or did not intend to make it mean, was granted on May 26, 1966)
Says official strategy:
‘This year each one shall be free’,-
Fratricide and poet too,
Peasant and incendiary.
December vents the thunderstorm:
So paddy thrives, and scorpion.
Where the creek slops curdling bile
The railway bridge thrusts down its piles
Shading the eggs of crocodiles.
Note that the river bed conceals
Nuggets, and deadly spawn of eels.
Note too: the selfsame land can feed
The agouti, and the centipede.
In a guest house once at Bartica
In the slipper at my father’s foot,
Each hair bristling from its root,
hid the starred tarantula.
Note well: across the country’s face,
Mocking hypocrite pose and creed,
Enmities of blood and race
Branch like rivers, and disgrace
Each father’s seed.
HIMSELF AT LAST
This lawyer’s niceties paid for his pleasures,
Maintained two sons through university,
Indulged his fat wife’s need for jewels.
In his free time he grew anthurium lilies;
His wife admired them, passers-by begged for them;
All thought him a true artist at his pastime.
Quibbling was an excellent profession
To this dean of small island mediocrities;
Until one day a swift, sclerotic stroke
Wounded his brain. End of the petty sessions.
His wife has left. His sons have hung their shingles.
Now he is what he is, by stern compulsion:
A grower of anthuriums.
Speak praise to heaven for this man’s handicaps
Which have stripped him at last down to himself.
RESPITE FOR A BUSINESSMAN
The moneymaker’s heart skipped. Shuddered. Stopped;
Startling him into awe of an old Truth,
Her arrogance, her starkness. Propped
On the brink of his end, he stared at her
With the rigor mortis of a dimming stare.
The doctors applied their shocking paddles. ‘Clear!’
Over his dripping face she flung her hair
And listened for his breath. It looked like love.
Day through the window thinned to twilight. She
Her point was made. His heart
Stuttered back to its beating.
The forehead warmed, after their clammy meeting.
He registered God’s mercy.
These days he leaves the city to itself,
Its urgent traffic and its stock exchange,
And potters round his bed of beans and roses,
Clear-headed in his new-found link with her.
(We are the One’s, and shall return to Him).
As he becomes increasingly a poet,
Stricken with light, mumbling rounds of prayers,
He notes the calm compliance of the butterfly,
Sun-dozing lizard and free-wheeling bird.
We are the One’s, and shall return to Him
Who watches us, choosing when we shall die.
THE JAGUAR AND THE THEORIST OF NÉGRITUDE
The Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka, apropos of the literary movement known as négritude, has said somewhere that a tiger does not go about proclaiming its tigritude: it just pounces.
The jungle, grown impatient with us all,
Has marched on military feet,
Has assaulted the rice and sugar coastland,
Checkerboard of historical habit.
The jungle’s retribution
Has invaded the capital.
In every street, branched giants have uprooted houses.
Monkeys with green faces and critical eyes
Open doors or climb into windows.
Terrible is their barking laughter.
Contrivances of our desperate spirit fail.
The sham we thought was our reality boils,
Evaporates, is gone, not even a fume
Remains. Inside each hollow skull
Something rattles - perhaps a knuckle
Of the dead, still weeping man, that, as he rubbed
The dusty trickle of his tears, became unhinged
And fell behind the absence of his eyes.
Ant-bears scribble with their snouts and tongues
Daintily on the infested skin of corpses.
Fleshy flowers, beating like live hearts,
Decorate the starkness of our pavements.
Troops of vipers move deployed, my love.
Essential horror has occurred, my love.
In the middle of an important street
An inventor of the black man’s soul lies dead.
His fingers clutch neither machete nor bomb,
But an anguished book he wrote - published in England.
O jaguar, lady, muse, teacher, it was you
Who banged your jaws into his throat, then ripped.