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Carib's Leap

Written by Patricia Harkins, Pierre St. Thomas, USVI for The Caribbean Writer on no date provided

Master poet Laurence Lieberman has once again produced a volume of narrative poems ""shining with inner light"" (""The Mural of Wakeful Sleep,"" 2, 149). His fourteenth collection of poetry is titled Carib's Leap: selected and new poems of the Caribbean. Lieberman has dedicated his book to his three ""beautiful grandchildren"" and to the memory of his mother, Anita Cohen Lieberman, who was born in 1905 and died in 1985 (inside front cover).

Carib's Leap is published by Peepal Tree Press, which also published Hour of the Mango Black Moon in 2004, highly recommended last year in The Caribbean Writer as ""unique"" and ""powerful"" (Vol. 19: 240-243). The poems in that collection were written in response to visionary paintings by three contemporary Caribbean artists, Stanley Greaves, Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi; the book includes eighteen full color plates of their work. In a recent letter Lieberman reveals, Carib's Leap ""In design. . .is a sort of companion to my previous volume with Peepal Tree. Luckily, my favorite Barbadian/Guyanese artist, Stanley Greaves, offered us lovely paintings for both the cover and frontispiece"" (unpublished letter 01/06/06).

""The Banana Madonna"" (146-148) and ""The Mural of Wakeful Sleep"" (149-161) are two of the poems in Carib's Leap that provide a further strong link to Hour of the Mango Black Moon, not only because they focus on art but because of their masterful blend of storytelling and poetic craftsmanship. Both poems feature church art on the island of St. Lucia. The focal point of ""The Banana Madonna"" is a set of spectacular windows in Roseau Valley Church, especially the panel with ""stained- / glass banana designs / which intertwine the faces and necks"" of a Madonna and the child suckling her breast (148). ""The Mural of Wakeful Sleep"" opens in the ""deep, spacious"" interior of Roseau Church (149). As the narrator's host throws open each set of barred shutters, ""hurled masses of light, fierce locomotives of fire"" pour in, illuminating the front chapel with its ""immense issued from"" the artist's ""bones"" (154). The result is a master.. piece, ""a family of folk Beings and Saints / ashimmer / in the story Saga of the wall"" (152).

Looking through the table of contents in any retrospective collection by a favorite poet is like conducting a private treasure hunt. One well remembered poem is ""Moon Hole,"" which first appeared in The Caribbean Writer (Vol. 13: 76-78) before being published in The Regatta in the Skies: Selected Long Poems (1999). This is a haunting, luminous poem describing ""misty dreamscapes. . .just at dusk / pulsating with waves of moony first light"" (222-224). Another memorable poem is ""Cactus Love"" (178-185) with its Arubian hero, Julio, who at 66, ""loves to sleep upon the bare earth"" and wake before dawn to walk among ""his prickly darling companions"" with ""their sheltering greeny breasts"" (184). But perhaps the greatest rediscovered treasure is powerfully moving ""Bitter Faith: Song of the Leper's Chef"" (211-219) set in the hermitage on St. Kitt's, a ""musty ruin"" that ""on recent maps. . .never shows up"" (212).

The title poem, ""Carib's Leap,"" (31-34) originally appeared in Dark Songs: Slave House and Synagogue (1996). This long, intricately woven poem is set in modern day Grenada. The narrator stands on a famous cliff ledge called Carib's Leap and ""mourn[s] / the demise / of mothers"" (31) with a native of the island named Heyling Charles. Together the two men survey gravestones marking the plots of a small graveyard. The mourners are ""both only sons, both orphaned / in middle age, but no less devastated by that parental void / than if we'd been teenagers"" (32). The ""prolonged shrieks"" (33) of two frigatebirds remind the narrator of the Caribs who chose ""all of One Voice Howl / in the trade winds / same winds as today, to die"" in one ""Mystic / synchronized bold LEAP of defiance / to the naked rocks below"" and ""soar into a life beyond, a life forevermore remote from terrible nonsense"" (33).

The tone of Carib's Leap never descends into sentimentality or maudlin self-pity despite its emphasis on the inevitability of loss and death. We know from an allusion in the poem to ""Anita"" (33) that the narrator is actually Lieberman himself, reflecting on the loss of his own mother. Though the poem has elements of tragedy, it is also sometimes whimsical, even playful, When the dead mothers report, ""it's all right. . .0 we do continue,"" their voices are ""quavering"" in a comic chorus (33). And when the narrator tells about the last restaurant lunch he ate with his mom, ""her hair done up spiffy"" for the occasion, his tone is indulgently amused though it is clear the anecdote has an underlying serious point about how her beauty ""grew ever stronger in Age"" (33).

As well as containing treasured poems from Lieberman's past work, Carib's Leap also contains some wonderful new poems, among them several with intriguing titles such as ""A Hemiplegic's Romance"" (240) and ""Wing Bones of the Child Drummer"" (236). But the new poem with the strongest connection to Hour of the Mango Black Moon is the relatively short ""The Saviour Bone"" (after a painting by Ras Akyem, 254-256). Arranged on the page in Lieberman's characteristic, visually complex style, ""The Saviour Bone"" describes Ras Akyem's ""Black Christ /...Jesus, not the churchly Man- / God, but archetype for us alive today—deprived man, but resilient Spirit"" (254). Wounded and in great pain, the bowed figure retrieves his crown of thorns while a second ""Crown of Thorns, / golden and aglow, ineradicable coronet / of light, shimmers,"" over his head, symbolizing ""he shall prevail over whatever tortures are heaped upon him"" (254). The long white bone at the bottom center is a relic of Jesus' mortal death but also of the enduring, ""wondrous...tale"" of ""himself as Black Saviour"" (254-255).

In the end, such a wealth of marvelous story poems, old and new, by Laurence Lieberman, all but takes our breath away. In the poet's own words, he continues to transform readers' lives through his ""HOMEMADE POWER AND LIGHT"" (261).

This is a review of Carib's Leap

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