The island’s body flutters to life
with chirping sparrows, warbling doves, squawking crows.
A dog howls in the distance.
A minibus bores down Spring Garden like a moray eel.
The quickening burst quickly ends
and the partially-silhouetted peace of Brandon’s beach ripples
at a slow even pace, fanned by gentle casuarinas, our elegant pines.
On the sea’s thigh, a cargo barge lay motionless,
sparkling night lights still signaling her rest.
From beneath the balcony of the guest house,
the clack of heels on asphalt. Light increases on a tall brown woman
in burgundy pants-suit forging toward the main road.
Then the other pace, the other tempo: a blackbird slowly pecks
a discarded fast-food carton in the centre of the road.
A sparrow picks at another object on the fringe of the road.
More gently swaying casuarinas above the houses. The heads
of two coconut trees lightly touch each other like a happy couple.
More footsteps. Not the urgent clack of working feet this time,
but a light slapping, a more casual sound:
a couple still wet with the sea. She holds one end of a towel
draped over the shoulder. How admirable, how privileged
to welcome the sunrise from the sea!
Two crows, several sparrows and a redbreast move
silently but purposefully toward the carton
and now there’s something, some white sacrament,
in each beak. They hop to the pavement to feed.
Cirrus clouds drift westward. The sky is a web of utility wires.
Light grows sharper by the second. Light
races over pea trees, over twirling orange crotons.
A soaring blackbird fans the air.
A woman in a nurse’s uniform strides toward the main road.
Her heels run as the bus comes into view.
The driver toots the horn to tell her he’ll wait.
She’ll board with a winded thank you. She’ll
smile with relief and take her seat.
The plaintive cry of pigeons, ominous and hopeful,
the last thing heard before all darkness disappears
and sunlight once more is fully throned.
Even when I lived here, my gaze on this rock
intense as a crow’s, I often felt outside of things.
Not the warbling surf or the flamboyant’s
lolling tongues sounding castanets in the teeth of the wind;
not the slow grazing cattle that taught me patience,
taught me how not to waste energy blindly lashing at flies
but to wait for that one rare moment to dance with death;
not the linguistic loveliness of sparrows and wood doves,
flirtatious, self-conscious, every chirp a lyric,
but the absence of human touch.
Long ago, I had such closeness,
before the shame of poverty and fear of its exposure;
before the hauling pains of poetry,
before Crop Over masks and the shallows of sorrow:
the matriarch’s sudden parting, the patriarch’s untimely death,
the siblings’ flight from sun to snow and another death.
I reasoned this to be art’s exile.
Still, I desired to be touched by hands, not just those rising with sea salt
or glowing with the hibiscus’ thick red palette.
I had my store of metaphors which I would gladly have traded
for a dialogue in flesh and blood,
the concrete thing and not merely its symbol,
however filled with oceanic grace.
I craved contact beyond the surface of how-you-do,
beyond the professional acquaintances and acceptances,
the lively lonely reception rooms, the blank faces,
the cuteness of friends and lovers,
the political correctness in a world where, like that of the spy,
nothing’s as it seems, and you never know the truth
of what’s truly felt or really believed.
So before khus-khus pierced the heart,
we piled into a rented van for our Saturday angelus
in the country where the patriarch was born.
Aunts and uncles, all smiles, hugged us, said how big we’d grown.
After home-cooked eating, the grown-ups spoke
of those who’d passed on: Uncle Ossie, Aunt Dottie.
Remembered their smiles or brows scowling with grief.
We sat silent, absorbing the past into our flesh, our bones.
Throbbing with the ages, we’d go into the yard, run ’bout,
indulge in ripened grapefruits and oranges dangling
like ornaments on a Christmas tree. And if we couldn’t reach them,
someone offered his back for a ladder.
And if some fruit evaded us still, we’d climb the tree...
On Sunday after church, the patriarch headed
the table where we gathered like almonds round a coast
rustling with thanks and shared love passed around in bowls
of rice and peas, beef stew, baked chicken and roasted pork,
steamed beans, avocado and cucumber salad,
the steam from the table coiling upwards like prayers.
Once, on the porch after dinner, I saw a group
of brown butterflies journeying over the garden
like a pattern of sky-divers challenging gravity.
Their wings seemed to touch each other, to support each other.
And I knew the truth in what I saw.
In an alien hour, yearning for such tactile moments,
I remember those wings,
see myself borne on their fluttering, buoyant tips.
And the sight of that glory is enough
to sustain me in my flight.