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Lady in a Boat

Written by June D. Bobb for The Caribbean Writer on no date provided

Merle Collins, poet, novelist and short story writer, in her recent collection of poetry, Lady in a Boat, celebrates the beauty and resilience of the land and people of Grenada. She brings to public consciousness the dark days of the Grenada invasion, and acknowledges the country's halting movement of recovery recently dealt another blow by the hurricane that almost leveled the
island.

This collection is organized in five sections: ""Quality Time,"" ""Se Mwe, Nutmeg"" (Is Me, Nutmeg), ""A Letter and a Note,"" ""Voices and Journeys"" and ""The Word - In the Beginning."" ""Quality Time"" is a beautiful evocation of the past and relationships. Here the poet recalls her father's slouching towards death, "". . .I saw your eyes fall before death's stare"" (16). She goes back in time to the territory of childhood in order to understand the past and relationships, to understand her father's love of ""green bush"" that to her mother is ""damn desolation."" In painting a picture of one man's struggle from ""nigger yard"" to ""bush,"" Collins captures the nature of the Caribbean's colonial past and the individual's battle against the weight of history and a sometimes treacherous natural world; yet a world where "". . .the sun, shoving the shine through all that rain / just to promise that it would soon come out again"" (24).

""Se Mwe, Nutmeg"" is a powerfully haunting chronicle of a Grenada poised on the brink of possibility, but reduced to hopelessness and despair by the United States' infamous invasion/intervention. In the opening poem of this section, ""Dream Mourning,"" the nameless persona questions the communal misunderstanding of dreams: ""drifting, boats on muddy wa- /ter weaving and waiting"" (30). Collins, in a moment of studied pain and without direct mention of revolution or invasion, captures palpable fury and revulsion: "". . .come rage, come / splash of blood, come pounding feet / come horror of the past be- / come future crucifixion / again"" (30). She also captures the feeling of invincibility, ""That young dream- / ers get drunk on the newness / of knowledge and turn from / the wisdom of old"" (30). ""Morning Glory"" catalogues early signs of unrest on the island, ""Dogs howl till moon stop / to watch,"" ""Pawpaw leaf. diseased and dead"" and ""morning glory waking wrong time of the day"" (31). ""October All Over,"" ostensibly about the hurricane season in the Caribbean, becomes a subtle meditation on knowledge and [mis]knowing and the finality of the end of an era of promise. In ""Pearl,"" the persona, bordering on hysteria, states, ""a foreign soldier just searched / me, and he laughed so hard that he shook"" (36). As the poet puts it in ""Sun Philosopher,"" ""stay away from rock stone dance / where eggshell stand not the slightest chance"" (45). Collins subtly meditates on relationships of inequality. She explores the psyche of the powerful and the powerless as well as the Caribbean's seeming destiny of dependency. Her eighty-year old female persona compresses the world as she weaves in and out of present and past. Rooted in the landscapes of the Caribbean, her ""man folk"" and children travel a world that is dominated by disease and destruction. She keeps searching for order and finds it in the routine simplicities of daily existence, ""plant some seeds / pick two guava, trim the bouganvillea"" (45). However, a retreat into the rustic is not totally satisfying. The poet feels compelled to shatter the silence enshrouding the past occupation of her island, ""Nearly twenty years and look is silence that reigning"" (50). ""Shame Bush"" possesses the promise and possibility of ""that jewel of a movement"" as well as the despair and destruction of a nation under siege with hope buried: ""All the quiet that surround us is the silence of pain / Is the quiet of cau¬tion; this destruction mustn't happen again"" (52).

The section of this collection entitled ""A Letter and a Note"" is a searing retelling of the killing of a dream and the murder of a movement. The presence of Morris Bishop, never named here, inspirits the text, ""I think of you, body broken, crammed into a hole somewhere, / while planes patrolled and bombs blasted your office on the hill. / The blackened walls still stand, I suppose you know, awaiting an elusive developer"" (59). The poet, with muted passion, goes back in time to the period of the annihilation of visions and dreams:

With war wandering wild, I remember the ides of October, how your grave became a seeping secret
spreading poison in the land,
how blood can poison plans imposing as mahogany, how callaloo closed in on itself like shame bush,
when your blood soaked into the land. (59)

Collins memorializes the unknown dead ""not celebrated by statues / or plaques"" (60). In another poem ""A Note,"" beginning with the violence of the invasion, the poet probes twenty years of Grenada's history exploring the psychology of power and the tentative reconstruction of a national consciousness.

In the final sections of the collection, ""Voices and Journeys"" and ""The Word - In the Beginning,"" the poet struggles to put unnamed fears to rest and to exorcise ""demon angels"" (68). Moving away from the Caribbean in an attempt to ""escape pursuing spirits,"" she discovers the impossibility of the 'exercise; yet in these foreign places, among them England and Mexico, Collins constructs an imaginary, but unsatisfying homeland. The landscape is filled with unanswered questions about the past and a deep uncertainty about the future. Away from her homeland, she longs for ""yellow poui blossoms"" (83). Fall in other lands offers no solace.

Ranging from poems reveling in the nation language of her island to poems that capture the beauty of its flora, Collins presents her island and people going about the business of living. They attempt to come to terms with the past and construct a future emerging out of the crucible of violence. Lady in a Boat is a poignant retelling of a period in history when, for a brief moment, Caribbean ascendancy seemed possible. Merle Collins shows how the death of this moment continues to haunt the Caribbean imagination.

June D. Bobb Queens, New York

This is a review of Lady in a Boat

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