Front Cover
 Friends of kyk-over-al
 Table of Contents
 Across the editor's desk
 Back Cover

Title: Kyk-over-Al
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00080046/00032
 Material Information
Title: Kyk-over-Al
Uniform Title: Bim
Alternate Title: Kyk over Al
Physical Description: v. : ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: British Guiana Writers' Association
Kykoveral (Guyana)
Publisher: s.n.
Place of Publication: Georgetown Guyana
Publication Date: -2000
Frequency: two no. a year
Subject: Guyanese literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Caribbean literature (English) -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Genre: review   ( marcgt )
periodical   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Guyana
Dates or Sequential Designation: Began in 1945?
Dates or Sequential Designation: -49/50 (June 2000).
Numbering Peculiarities: Publication suspended, 19 -1983.
Issuing Body: Issued by: British Guiana Writers' Association, 1945-19 ; Kykoveral, 1985-
General Note: Vol. for Apr. 1986 called also golden edition that includes anthology of selections from nos. 1-28 (1945-1961).
General Note: Description based on: No. 30 (Dec. 1984); title from cover.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00080046
Volume ID: VID00032
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12755014
lccn - 86649830
issn - 1012-5094

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Friends of kyk-over-al
        Page 1
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        Page 4
    Table of Contents
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    Across the editor's desk
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    Back Cover
        Back Cover
Full Text


/ 4/ 7-

Friends of Kyk-Over-Al # 45

Many individuals and companies have assisted Kyk-Over-Al
since the magazine was relaunched 10 years ago in December 1984.
Indeed without such help Kyk could not possibly have continued. In
Guyana or the West Indies perhaps, indeed, anywhere a literary
magazine can by no means survive through sales alone so we are
dependent on sponsorship provided by people and companies with
the imagination to see that a magazine like Kyk is worth keeping
going for the sake of the contribution it makes to cultural and
intellectual life in the country. In the case of this issue, # 45, we owe
a particular and very great debt of gratitude to six organizations
which have greatly assisted us in the publication. We hope that it will
be reward enough for them to know that their support has enabled an
important part of our cultural tradition in Guyana and the West Indies
to be preserved now and, we hope, well into the future. We extend our
sincere thanks to the following:

Shell Antilles & Guianas Limited
National Bank of Industry & Commerce
Guyana Bank for Trade & Industry
Bank of Nova Scotia
Omai Goldmines Limited

KYK #45

The cost of printing and distributing a literary magazine is very heavy.
Please help us to strengthen Kyk-Over-Al by sending your subscription
IAN McDONALD (Editor), /o Guysuco, 22 Church Street,
Georgetown, Guyana.
In the U.K. please apply to:
F.H. THOMASSON, 25 Carlton Mews, Wells, Somerset, BA5 1SG.
In Canada and the United States please apply. to:
JENNIFER SINGH, 33 Sunburst Square, Scarborough, Ontario
NIB 2R3.

Subscriptions per issue (including postage)

G$400 EC$15 UK4 US$7 CAN$8

The Editor would welcome the submission of poems, short stories,
articles and reviews toconsider forpublication. Publication, of course, cannot
be guaranteed and because of expenses it will not be possible to return

Copyright (C) 1994.

No reproduction by any means, except for short extracts for review
purposes, may be made without the permission of the Editor.

ISSN 1012-5094

Layout & Typesetting of Kyk-Over-Al # 45
Red Thread Women's Press
173 Charlotte Street, Lacytown,

Kyk # 45 Contributors

EDWARD BAUGH Jamaican poet; author of A Tale from the Rain
Forest (poems); Professor of English at the Mona Campus of the
University of the West Indies.

FRANK BIRBALSINGH Born in Guyana; literary critic; senior
lecturer in Caribbean Literature, York University, Canada, important
promoter of West Indian writers.

ROY BRUMMELL Guyanese teacher, folklore historian, short story
writer, now lives in the U.S.A.

MAHADAI DAS Guyanese poet; M.A. (Philosophy) University of
Chicago; her collection of poems Bones was published in 1989 by
Peepal Tree Press.

MICHAEL GILKES Guyanese playwright and literary critic; his
most celebrated play Couvade was given an outstanding production
in Guyana in 1993; his play A Pleasant Career won a Guyana Prize
for Drama in 1992;he now works at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community
College in St. Lucia.

CECIL GRAY- Noted Trinidadian poet, short story writer, editor and
lecturer, now lives in Canada.

STANLEY GREAVES Distinguished Guyanese painter, teacher and
writer on art; poet; now lives in Barbados.

PETER JAILALL Guyanese poet; journalist; now lives in Canada.

MARK McWATT Guyanese poet; author of two collections of
poems Interiors (1989) and The Language of El Dorado (1994),
published by Dangaroo Press; lecturer in English at Cave Hill
Campus of the University of the West Indies; Joint Editor of The
Journal of West Indian Literature.

ROOPLALL MONAR Guyanese poet, short story writer and
novelist; author of Backdam People (stories) Koker (poems) Jhanjat
(first novel) and High House and Radio (stories) all
published by Peepal Tree Press and Estate People published by
The Roraima Press.

PAM MORDECAI Jamaican poet; radio and TV producer, editor
of Caribbean Journal of Education; has written many books
for children.

HEMRAJ MUNIRAM-Guyanese journalist and short story writer.

NAN PEACOCKE- Born in Guyana of Vincentian parents; resident
of Barbados, Editor of Woman Speak, Journal published by WAND;
contributor to CAFRA's Creation Fire anthology of Caribbean
Women Poets; she also played the lead in BANYAN's Video
production of Wide Sargasso Sea.

KEN RAMCHAND distinguished literary critic, historian and editor;
professor of English at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of
the West Indies; writes a well-known column for the Trinidad

RUPERT ROOPNARAINE Guyanese teacher, poet, literary critic,
film-maker and political activist. Authorof Web of October (1988) and
Suite for Supriya (1993): collections of poems published by Peepal
Tree Press.

CLEM SEECHARRAN Guyanese historian; author of India and
the Indo-Guyanese Imagination, 1890s to 1920s; lecturer at North
London University.

KIREN SHOMAN young poet from Belize.

ANNE WALMSLEY- Born in England;B.A. in English from Durham
University and M.A. in African Studies from Sussex University; her
anthologies of Caribbean Writing, The Sun's Eye, and Facing the Sea
are widely used; Editor of Guyana Dreaming, the Art of Aubrey
Williams; author of the History of the Caribbean Artists' Movement.


KYK # 45

* Contents


l Across the Editor's Desk IAN MCDONALD 5

. Poetry

My Sister Cries the Sea
My Sister Gets Married

I Want to Go Home
My Agie's Hands

View from the George
Headley Stand, Sabina


Wash Pot

Ragged Point, Barbados

Dead Again
Postcard to Exiles


Carnival Sunday Jump-up



The Inheritance

17 c, Stories
The Patient 40
20 Old Manu's Gift 46

22 The Attache Case 49

Profile of Wilson Harris 63
Interview with Fred D'Aguiar 75
26 / Reviews
Indo-Caribbean Resistance
Edited by Frank Birbalsingh 89

The Zea Mexican Diary
by Kamau Brathwaite

Visual Arguments:
Stanley Greaves at Sixty

A Illustrations
STANLEY GREAVES: The Artist's Notebooks


KYK #45

% Across the Editor's Desk


Again, embarrassingly, apologies are due to readers, contributors and
subscribers for the long delay in publishing Kyk 45. Issue # 44,
featuring Martin Carter, came out in May, 1993. It had been planned
to bring out Kyk 45 first in December, then in June, 1994. The
intervals between issues are getting longer. The fault, I fear, lies
fundamentally with the Editor whose attention has been diverted
again and again by competing duties and interests and suddenly
prevailing inclinations. I am sure the reason is not failing commitment.
I hope it is not fading energy. In future we must find a way at least to
reduce the length of delay between issues.


This issue would have been even longer delayed, and certainly its
production would have been of lesser quality, if it had not been for the
assistance of Brendan de Caires,Vanda Radzik and Red Thread
Women's Press.
Brendanhelped greatly by sorting through the mass ofmaterial
- poems, stories, reviews and critical articles submitted for publica-
tion and discussing the relative merits of the submissions with me. I
found this most valuable though, of course, no blame attaches to him
either for the omissions or inclusions finally made by the Editor.
Kyk-Over-Al is now very dependent on the work done for it by
the Red Thread Women's Press and in particular its Director, Vanda
Radzik. Much of what is important in bringing out a magazine flows
from the efforts of Vanda and the people at the Red Thread Press:
suggesting the format and doing the layout, organising proof-reading,
designing the cover, printing the magazine. Vanda also made many
astute editorial comments and supplied the illustrations which add so
much to the magazine. As in Kyk 44, her work and the contribution
of Red Thread, have made all the difference in achieving quality in

KYK #45

I would also like to repeat in these editorial pages the apprecia-
tion recorded in the "Friends of Kyk" page to the financial sponsors
of this issue. Kyk cannot survive on the proceeds of subscriptions and
sales alone. I find it immensely heartening that a numberof companies
and banks have felt it worthwhile to assist a literary magazine so
readily and generously. It is always made clear that no advertising
space is available but this has not prevented those businesses contrib-
uting. Let me record their names: Shell Antilles and Guianas Limited,
National Bank of Industry and Commerce, Courts, Guyana Bank of
Trade and Industry, Bank of Nova Scotia, Omai Goldmines Limited.

Five Rules of Poetry

In the letters of John Betjeman there is one in which he sets out for a
correspondent five simple rules in writing poetry:

1. Poetry should not be private, but easy for all to understand.
2. It should have tones of meaning beneath the surface one.
3. It should read out loud well.
4. It should be memorable.
5. It should very clearly not be prose. Rhythm helps to make
it different.

These seem to me simple, straightforward, clear and useful precepts
for poets to remember.

Letter-Writing as an Art

I have happened to read recently, in articles and various collections, a
large number of letters by authors who presumably dashed them off as
little considered side-shows to their main work. In particular, I have
been reading letters in One Art: Selected Letters of Elizabeth
Bishop. These have sent me back to browse in the letters of John Keats,
Byron in particular, Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Gerald Manley
Hopkins among others. I am beginning to think, perhaps because of the
spontaneity and the lack of inhibition in letter-writing, that this is a
form of creativity too lightly regarded by critics and that in their letters

KYK #45

many writers arrive at a pitch of inspired expression which they rarely
equal elsewhere. The body of Byron's letters, for example, surely
represents as considerable a work of art as anything he ever wrote. And
certainly Elizabeth Bishop's letters reinforce the impression that
grows in me these days that she is among the front-rank of twentieth
century poets.
Now one comes to think of it, have there been any published
collections of letters by West Indian literary figures of the past or
indeed by great West Indians in any sphere? I think I remember seeing
C.L.R. James's letters. Are there any others?
Who can doubt that letters can be works of art in themselves?
Here, for example, is a letter from the recently published letters of Jean
Renoir, the film director. For me, even in its slightly fractured English,
it is so pure and delicate in expressing the emotion of the moment that
I cannot imagine writing being better crafted for its purpose than this.
It is a letter written to Jean Renoir's good friend Clifford Odets whose
wife Bette has just died:

Dear Cliff
We cannot imagine that we won't see any more this
sweet girl unfitted for modern life. Almost an anachronism in
a big town, making elevators, streetcars, neon lights look
indecent born to be Nausicaa and chatter with the King's
servants around the well, with Mount Olympus in the back-
ground. The last time we saw her was in a taxi cab. In my
memories this banal background cheap set-up disappears
replaced by an olive tree and the broken column of an ancient
With our love,
Jean & Dido.

The Name and Nature of Poetry

I recently bought a copy of the Penguin edition of A.E. Housman's
Collected Poems and Selected Prose. (What intellectual delight, what
good instructions, what pure pleasure have the multitude of Penguins
given countless millions over the years). I began to browse in it and
suddenly realized all over again what a beautiful, spare, exact, moving

KYK #45

poet Housman can be. And then I read again his great address. The
Name and Nature of Poetry which I had not read since University
days. Here, in case you have forgotten, is the passage on how to define

Poetry indeed seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year or
two ago, in common with others, I received from America a request
that would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry
than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognized the
object by the symptoms which it provokes in us. One of these
symptoms was described in connection with another objectby Eliphaz
the Temanite: 'A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh
stood up.' Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning,
to keep watch over my thoughts, because, if a line of poetry strays into
my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act This
particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there
is another which consist in a constriction of the throat and a precipi-
tation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe
by borrowing a phase from one of Keats's last letters, where he says,
speaking of Fanny Brawne, 'everything that reminds me of her goes
through me like a spear. The seat of this sensation is the pit of the

Derek Walcott

If Kyk 45 had come out much earlier, as intended, Derek Walcott's
Noble Prize lecture would have been printed in it. However, in the
intervening period of delay this lecture has been reproduced so often
in magazines and newspapers that it came to seem supererogatory to
print it again and anyway insulting to be so behind the time in doing
But what I can do is reproduce what must be less well known
and which I think in its own right is a beautifully crafted and pitched
piece, Edward Baugh's "Introduction" when Derek Walcott was
honoured at a "Gathering of Graduates" conference at Mona in April,
1993. Here it is:

KYK #45

"It is not often that I have the pleasure of introducing persons
who have had entire city squares named after them. For those
of you who have been living outside of history, I should explain
that Columbus Square in Castries was recently re-named Derek
Walcott Square. I have been trying to imagine what Walcott
will say to Columbus when they meet. Will he play the part of
modesty and humility and say 'sorry, Chris man, is not my
fault. I tell them wasn't to do it.' Or will he step boldly into the
role of a new plantation owner and shout, 'Hey Columbus, you
son of a Genoan! You like how I shaft you, like how mi brudder
Odysseus shaft the Cyclops? Just make sure you don't come
near my square no more!'
Actually, I suspect that the meeting will take neither of these
turns. I suspect that they will sit down together, man to man, and
talk about the sea and ships, about hawser and rigging, about
bowsprit and gunnel and spinnaker, about the terrors of the deep
and how a man manages his craft. (You may take "craft" as you
like it, even according to the Mona lexicon of forty years ago.)
So we welcome into yet another landfall ourmastermariner,
Walcott, who has been doggedly and masterfully managing his
craft for fifty years, but who has never felt that he has learned
My palms have been sliced by the twine of the craft
I have pulled at for more than forty years....
We welcome him because he is one of those who were young
in the infancy of this place, and because he has fulfilled in
himself the promise of that golden dawn which he helped
inaugurate. In this conference we are to reflect on how we may
unlock the potential of the region. We welcome him because he
is a splendid example of that potential unlocked, achieved.
I have thought at one time that what I should do this morning
is simply recite in Homeric fashion the long list of his honours
and awards, the titles of his books, the theatres of his struggle
and triumphs, the scenes of his epic quarrels of one kind or
another. I recall a day in 1965 when I met him by chance in
Seawell airport, as it then was. His right hand was bandaged,
and when I asked him what had happened, he replied, off-
handedly you might say, thathe had only put his through a glass

KYK #45

But I like that biographical brevity of the dust-jacket of his
Collected Poems. It says simply: 'Derek Walcott was born in St.
Lucia, the West Indies, in 1930. He now lives in Trinidad and
Boston.' Between these two bald markers is an incomparable
life. It includes the printed Walcott, who has made his mark on
the world, as well as the unprintable Walcott, who is no less
unforgettable. When I ask some of his sparring partners of the
bad old Mona days what memories they have of him, they say,
'But you couldn't use them. They're unprintable.'
We welcome him because he has helped us to claim the
world, and with it an increased sense of our own worth. He has
taken us with him into the magnetic sphere of legends. He has
made of his foresters and fishermen/heraldic men! His imagi-
nation has grown wide as the world and he has made the world
recognize the importance of small places. He has travelled far,
but he always knows where he came from: The midsummer sea,
the hot pitch road, this grass, these shacks that made me.
We welcome him because it has been our custom and
pleasure to recognize his progress. For sixteen years, and until
only four years ago, he was the only graduate of the university
to have been awarded an honorary degree.
Many months ago, when the Master of these Revels told me
that this Gathering was to gather and that Walcott was to be the
keynote speaker, I tried not to let him see how surprised I was,
pleasantly surprised. I should have expected some panjandrum
of politics or economics or business or international affairs, or
even just 'affairs'. After all, the conference was to be about
Caribbean 'development', and the received wisdom is that
'development' does not have anything to do with poets. To this
day this university has iiot been able to afford so small a thing
as a position for a writer in residence. Presumably that is a
luxury too high for developing tastes and states. So, I was
pleasantly surprised. Verily, I had not thought to find such great
good sense, no, not in Mona.
And too besides, as we say in Barbados, the decision to invite
Derek Walcott to address this conference was taken long before
the news of the Nobel Prize broke which only goes to show
that the good sense of the people in Stockholm is almost equal
to ours.

KYK #45

If time allowed, I could take you through his poems and his
plays and show you how he has lived the history of this region,
how his hand (has given) voice to one people's grief how the
artist has become part of his landscapes. I could show you what
his works have to do with 'development' and the potential of
the region. But it is enough to repeat his benediction:

Open the map. More islands there, man.
Than peas on a tin plate, all different size,
one thousand in the Bahamas alone,
from mountains to low scrub with coral keys,
and from this bowsprit, I bless every town,
and blue smell of smoke in hills behind them,
and the one small road winding down like twine
to the roofs below.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give to Walcott of Castries a
West Indian welcome."

Sam Selvon

All who are West Indian by blood or love or any affiliation and know
our literature loved Sam Selvon's stories probably above all others.
His death brought sadness to even those who did not know Sam Selvon
personally because it was as if the characters he created and whom we
did indeed know and love had also in some way died.
Sam Selvon was one of the good, true Caribbean writing men,
with the most beautiful ear for our language, and his work will last.
In this issue Ken Ramchand's Story The Patient is based on the
last weeks in the life of Sam Selvon who was taken ill on a visit to
Trinidad and who died on the point of leaving on a private jet which
has been specially sent from Canada for him.

KYK #45



My Sister Cries the Sea

My sister is crying and crying
her tears grow to salt stormy showers
to rain and to rapids and rivers
they run to the sea to the sea.

My sister sobs softly she knows
she listens at shells and the shallows
she hears from things sleeping in winter
winnowing minnowing dreams

hears walking fish clear at Mayaro
black eyes popping out of their heads
"The wind has gone out of the water
the sea things are tarred to their beds."

hears lichen and moss at Newcastle
as tree things brown up and go dry
"The poisons have captured the airways
the land and the sea are to die..."

My sister sits up and speaks slowly
her words are tripped up by her fear
the news is no longer a secret
and all but the speaking ones hear-

"The rain has leaked out of
the sky its skin itches
hot winds dictate the weather

KYK #45

fluting mean riffs
through stops holed out
by feisty fluorocarbons
cores overheat the rainbow
its seven bright notes charred to one
white beam trails heaven's
last comet aching to be born..."

My sister is crying and crying
her tears have joined up with the tide
the shells and the shallows have vanished
the earth and the heavens divide.

My sister cannot stop her tears.

My Sister Gets Married

It is dark

At five she is stirring
catarrhd in wet coughs
of old whiskered wives
assembled for rites
black bumps on fat boxes
knees knitted together
heel out and toe in
securing the bride for
them brazen can't finish
these days...

My sister gets up and
she walks to the window
in an ocean of sky

KYK #45

sees the crazy old crabs
She opens the window
and smiles clouds feel bad
embarrass like how them
dress drab and bedraggle

Crabs curl into their backs
wrap shawls against cool breeze
against the pride of the momin
pat safe in them bosom
nuff thread bag containing
queen gold and king silver
for blood is the sign them can
lef go dead quiet

Beyond in the yard is
the one she will mate with
she measures his limbs feels
the stems of his arms as
they wrap her slight body
his trunk as it tumbles
cut down by her eyes

My sister is wise

She will give herself
to him little by little
he'll pole up the stream
of her hauling so patient
work his craft to the river
head feeling the way
then reckless on rapids
run with the river

Crabs bless the new blood

KYK #45

left di money for wares
bedsheet with embroidery
new ewer and basin
big enamel chimney
coal pot some flat iron
a plaque for declaring
di Lord is di head of
dis house breaking bread
with the household
eavesdropper divine
every God time
you open you mouth...

My sister looks down at
her small sturdy body
she knows long years later
she'll gather to marry
daughter and daughter
black bump of a crab with
a threadbag of silver and
rheum in her eyes.

KYK #45


I Want to Go Home

I want to go home
But I can't go home
I'm stuck wid de wuk
And the designer clothes

I want to go home
But I can't go home
I'm stuck wid de weather
And the heavy paka
Changing me culla
In white white winta

I want to go home
But I can't go home
I'm stuck wid de ting
Dey call Burga King
Addicted to de taste
Of all that waste

I want to go home
But I can't go home.

My Agie's Hands

I can still see her thumbs
Dancing as they work
Her fingers rotating
In precise coordination
Those loving fingers

KYK #45

Bathed in coconut oil
Helping each other,
Moving like a team
Of dedicated doctors
To fix the infant's hasley
My agie's hands
Twisting the corn bag strainer
To squeeze out the coconut milk
Leaving the kus kus dry
Then extracting the last drop
Of coconut oil
Making the chan-chee
Drier than crapaud bone
My agie's finger nails
Harder than alligator's scales
Sporting a permanent yellow
From the cutex
Of the jusya weed
Those Kurmee hands
Massaged the rice field's
Stubborn clay
Gently stroking mother earth
Opening her up for the beeya root
She, transplanting them
Giving life anew
Waiting for the autumn sun
To yield a bumper crop
My agie flexing her biceps
To make the grass knife sing
Grabbing and cutting
Handfuls of solid 79
Cleaner than the red combine
My agie's hands
Were sowing hands
Scattering dhaan

KYK #45

To feed the nation
And to fatten chickens
With her che-che call

My agie's hands

Were caressing hands
Cuddling and pressing
The pink nipples
Of the bhuri cow
Making milking music
Chun-chai, chun-chai
In her black saucepan
Sweeter than the calypso man

My agie's hands
Had barakat
Her capstan cup, never empty
Always glittering with shillings
Those hands washed
A million cups
Clapped roti enough
To feed the world's army
My agie's hands
Were small hands
Small hands like hers
Build big nations.

KYK #45



I half awaken
to the comforting blur of my mother
pulling on her house -
dress in the half light

and already the sound of my father
as from muted dream distance
clucking the chickens to corn

I too some distant morning
shall rise responsibly
to set my house in motion.

Meantime, I pull the covers close
and smile for the pure secret
thrill of it, and let myself down
into that last, sweet, morning sleep.

View from the George Headley Stand, Sabina

"You see, you see what I tell you,
he playing and missing, I tell you!"
"No, no, you don't read the stroke.
He know what he doing, he leaving
the ball alone. Just at the last
crucial moment, he easing the bat
inside the line and letting it pass."
"Well all I can say is that that
is a damn dangerous way
to be leaving the ball alone."

KYK #45

"What you saying in truth? You mean
you meaning to tell me that in this
almost twenty first century them white boys
making my boy look fool?" Mister man,
all I know is it wrecking my nerves
for just make that ball swerve
a fraction and follow the bat
and bap is a snick to slips
and, ole massa, we gone, we dead."
"Cho, I don't care what you call it,
that is what I call a indigenous
stroke. You know what I know?
This argument can't settle, for if
him out now caught in the slips
that still wouldn't prove nuttn
and if you ask him himself, the man
would be a fool to tell you the truth."
" Gentlemen, gentlemen, is watch
we come to watch cricket, or is
epistemology we come here to talk?"
"This chicken sweet, yes! Is Brenda
cook it? Say what? You mad?
You don't know long time that rum
don't agree with my stomach? Man,
just pass me the Scotch."

KYK #45



Old story. Young girl getting bigger now:
Fifteen, tender, good, submissive.
Parents want the best for her:
Pious, fierce for family and name
And old traditions steeped in race and time.
Goldsmith's son is thirty-four
Had his days, boy, played an eager field,
Wants to settle now and take a wife.
Offers house and future safe as gold
And cows and coconuts up Essequibo Coast.
The thing is done, families agree:
A marriage is arranged for all to see,
Proud and suitable and good for all
Except she's irremediably locked in tears.
She will not talk to family or friends
Except to say she does not wish to live
If this must be the burden of her days:
Not furious but a quiet, downward look.

All are summoned against this stubborness:
Old, gentle uncles come, brothers hold her hands,
White-robed Pandit shakes his head and warns.
They appeal to me: I see the girl
I knew since parents gave her birth.
She has her story when we sit alone.
Young man she saw once by the temple wall:
Hardly speak though they meet at festivals.
Hands once touched, and held, and that's enough.
I say the sensible things I must
But eyes have blazed like that before,
Storm-light on a sunless shore.

KYK #45 -23

I meet my old, grey, saddened friends.
"She is young! What does she know of life!"
Yes, she is young as the new moon,
Green as young grass after rain,
But what she now has in her heart -
Hard as antique mountain stone
Sleepless, ancient scythe of stars.
And, yes, she will kill herself
You bring this goldsmith's son of yours.

KYK #45


Wash Pot

Me wash you cloth, man!
sweep you bloody house
cook roti and shrimp curry,
give you wife
mash you foot
rub-down you skin

And you tun mad
when me wear short frock...
see English picture in Town,
read me sista letter from America?

Me wash you cooking' pot
talk- nice with you sweet-woman
hear you jhandee

but you face tun like hatching-fowl
when me sista say:
"Come America."

Tink this is long time, nuh?
Is all day me goin' wash pot?
You wait til me get that 'Merican visa!

KYK #45


Ragged Point, Barbados

Quick waves crack those old black
rocks, break to bright foam stream-
ing through mossy seams and fiss-
ures studded with snails. Look!
That rock bares gnarled, jagged
hurts, steams in its own
encircling white.

How many shocks
How many Drownings
grew those dread-
ful spears
those matted Rasta locks ?

KYK #45


Dead Again

"I like your poetry,"
he said, coming
a little closer to me.

I didn't mind now.

"Do you really?" I
asked him, blushing.
How silly of me to

have ignored him-

to have thought
for one minute
that he wanted to use me ...

"Yes," he answered, more

sure of himself,
"especially the last one
you wrote... what was the name?"

"Dead again," I answered

Postcard to Exiles

Hot Belize City boredom
It gets under your armpits.
The tourists still eat carrots
from Saturday market

KYK #45 -27

without peeling the skins
Do you remember?

The last time I heard
from you
you said you wear thick tights
even in the summer
and that everybody goes
on holiday around now.
When are you coming back?

KYK #45



A crimson sun drowns over Guyana horizons
at dusk.
Birds do not chatter but droop.
Dogs howl.
News is a young girl raped and murdered
in Le Repentir Graveyard of impenitence.
The whole country mourns like fathers
and mothers weeping open-eyed.
What has become of citizens responsible
for their brothers?
Like Cain, the killer slays his blood
and flesh.
Meanwhile, the dogs and cats witnessing
the attack, continue to howl.

KYK #45



One great-great-grandfather was bought
from the chief of a tribe that won him
prisoner; yoked in a coffle to stumble
miles to the coast; latched down in
stench, shipped across the Atlantic,
ankles and neck ringed with bright sores
the irons scraped in. Put up for auction.
On the canefields the whip at times sliced
through his black skin, and the children
he bore were ripped from his grip. Pain,
like a spear in his side, never left him.

I sit here and contemplate that.
But how can I say that the sting
and the grief are real in reflections?
Should I believe that his anguish
and my thinking of it are the same?
It is easy to use him to browbeat
the world and blame it for cutting
my skin. Easy to claim his flesh as my own.
I imagine it true and how I should feel.
I should say what others are saying
Still, moving the pen on the page
it is only my finger that hurts.

KYK #45


In some towns, you're black,
you're suspect. You have
criminal stamped all over you.
In a store eyes track you,
in a park you find plenty
of space. You awaken interest
in all cruising policemen.
They want to know all
about you. Their questions
belie their respect. My
friend had a key for a suite
a white colleague on leave
had lent him one summer.
A neighbour saw him enter,
called the cops. 'A stranger'.
'Black'. The cops took him in.
His story of being a professor
was as far-fetched as any
they'd heard. Afterwards,
they said to the ambassador
it was only a pardonable
error. After all, he was lucky.
He could have been running.
He could have been shot.


Poets and historians
talk a lot about heritage,
legacy and such. I cannot
pretend I carry around

KYK #45

any connection with castles
or huts of some past
dispensation. I move light.
I'm just not interested in
toting more burdens than
ones the present straps on.
And I want no excuses
to shunt any blame I
deserve on to someone's
ancestors. Let me fight
my own day-to-day battles.
I am grateful that fortune
mixed what fools call my blood.
These islands are all that
I have, that I want. Call
me whatever you like, but
don't waste your four-letter words
to try insult me. I feel
extremely insulted already,
being told I belong, not here,
in these islands that made me,
but to some unknown, foreign country.

Carnival Sunday Jump-Up

Carnival will spill out tomorrow and run
over the streets. But today we keep it
contained in backyards like this one,
with music more drunkening than rum.
We jump-up, happy and helpless. We were
christened to keep faith with the beat
of calypsoes and the sanctus of drums.
The crowd thickens and rolls like an ocean

KYK #45

washing its billows across the whole lawn.
This one is up on a hill and below us
the Gulf, in costume already, all satins and
sequins, is dancing as if Jour Ouvert has come.
Hill or no hill, we jump-up and jump-up.
I shuffle and move to the side to sit down.

Two English critics, accents heavy with pounds
of patronage they can't spend in England,
and finding the strong rhythm too difficult,
waylay me to talk, raising their voices to
stickfight with the jamming, about language
most appropriate to West Indian verse.
I take it they're playing Pierrot Grenade.

But I listen as well as I can since
it is Carnival. It has to be patois, like
calypsoes, they say; and anything metrical
is aping what's foreign. (Hanging one's
hat, etc.) I think. The feet tramp the grass
keeping time with a metre even the new
colonisers can hear. They continue.

Since our experience is black, and
somewhat incestuous, we must stick to
a language of anger born in grim ghettoes
of squalor where history shuts out laughter
and dance. Those who had essayed (their word)
outside natural limits had failed, falling
somewhere between Shakespeare and Larkin.

Verse raises its volume in the loudspeakers
and I slip slyly away to dance the vernacular.
It is Carnival and each one, local or not,
is allowed to spout robber talk without limit.

KYK #45 .33

So I don't say to them I want to jump-up
in time down the hill although I might fall
somewhere between Walcott and Naipaul.

KYK #45



My son brought home a seagull
with a damaged wing
his mother and sister helped
him fuss over it and feed the wild,
ungrateful thing.

They treated the raw, unfeathered
patch and tied the drooping limb
to its body with a strip of cloth;
deciding not to name him yet,
they placed him for the night
in a shoebox lined with an old towel
complete with plastic tot of water
and two smelly sprats, procured
with difficulty at such short warning.
The boy guessed all would be right,
come morning.

In fact the thing died.
When I checked before breakfast, it
was stiff, and its rank death
had already attracted a phalanx
of tiny ants. My son said nothing;
looked at it a while, then
dealt it an almighty kick, box and all
and sent it crashing into the opposite wall.

So much for the nameless bird.
Sister and mother were aghast,
upset he could be so uncaring.
But I understood why he kicked it,

KYK #45 .35

and approved, beneath the mandatory frown.
I think it's right to kick at death,
especially when you're young.
He was not uncaring, what he cared for
was life, the chance to see the creature mend,
to release it and watch it soar,
the lifeless form was cruel recompense
for all the love and care he'd felt before
and so he wanted no business
with dead things, his savage kick
focused his argument more sharply
than these words, and I hope for him
a life as fiercely free as he had wanted
for that awkward, damaged bird.

KYK #45


KYK #45


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Of' fi c P l^T/NMr W fW- FiS^ -

KYK #45


The Inheritance

Early that morning
pain laid you back
into the geography
and all our long journey
of love and conflict
the incredulous household
the drops of
water I rubbed
across your lips
were nothing
against that

I shut away
the mild surprise
in your eye

That night
keeping watch
from this side
I followed your
windy desert crossing
till these poor instruments
could no longer sight
your sheet white hair
sailing to glory

KYK #45

Into a hole
in the hillside
we let the satchel slip

I shuddered at the ghastly

My brother
leaning inward
Remember, that's not her there
Not you
You're not here now

That you lived is certain
under a mackerel sky
with your flowers
your insistence
that you counted
and were counted

and parted
this universal loneliness
counts me
among the believers.

Editor's Note:

This Poem was written as a tribute to the life and work ofNora
Peacocke, Nan's mother. Nora Peacocke was Editor of The
Vincentian newspaper, and as an ardent 'Federationist' was a
life-long advocate of Caribbean Unity.


KYK #45

c' Stories


The Patient (for Michael, Leslie and Debbie)

The Korean woman what tell Jerry to bring some Frank Sinatra records
for me (I don't know what kiskadee tell she I even listen to Frank
Sinatra record), that same bitch pushing her mouth against my ears as
if is a trumpet, getting on just like that writer feller what look at a big
man like me and tell me he love me.
She come to announce that they carrying me to Canada in a special
plane: "Saam, Saam darling, I know you're hearing me. Saam, I have
something to tell you but you mustn't get angry you hearing me? I want
you to be a good boy?"
What the ass is this? Who have more cause to be obedient more
than me? Who could want this sickness to pass more than me?
Afterwards, the boy in whose veins the poem sang left his companions
sitting on the steps of the railway station and wandered offfor more
poetry, discovering it in the sleeping village and the flower-strewn
lane by the cemetery, and in the flowers which appeared to explode
into efflorescence. A clear stream ran through the village. Engraved
on a clock high on the steeple of an old church were the words. 'Grow
old along with me, the best is yet to be.'
It surprise everybody how meek I get in the hospital. I abide by all
the rules, and I follow every instruction. Keep my mouth quiet when
I know the care is not intensive care. Kick up no fuss when a female
patient whose head can't be right, leave her own bed and come to lay
down in mine, and nearly tangle on all them wires and hoses that tying
me down. Make no complaint when a nurse get confuse and try to give
me a tablet and I know, from the colour, that is a tablet the doctor who
come this morning decide he not giving me again.

KYK #45

It have no dignity in this helplessness. I keep still while they do all the
shit that they have to do for me. I don't flinch when they invent some
new procedure, some new pain that they have to inflict I make no
complaints. Sometimes I think I will go mad on this hopeless, heartless
mount, but I refuse. If it is time they want to clear up what has to clear
up, is all right, I am fighting, I am giving them time.
Blinding shocking sensations crossed crisscross in his brain as the
little men began their macabre work. He longedfor death as the blunt
pegs thudded against and split open the skin of his forehead, then met
unresisting bone. Armies marched in his brain, all the drums in the
world boomed, cymbals clashed, the Kaiteur Falls roared. And yet,
with a grimness impossible to conceive he clung tenaciously to reason,
preferring to die than be driven into the looming limbo of the ring of
deep purple, and every time he thought that he could bear it no more,
some itch of life stirred and came forward.
Haul all you ass, little men.
The first time the hospital send me home was a happy time. I
remind the short bitch how he make me go outside in the Colgate snow
everytime I want to light up and smoke. Then I tell him not to worry
it wouldn'thappen again, I finish with that, boy. If they are looking for
a famous face to advertise how smoking is bad, and how liquor will lick
you up before your time, they don't have to look far, they could come
and take out my photo any day.
Three times they let me out, and is three times i had was to go back.
The Black Englishwoman tell Junior they didn't really have to admit
me again, but they like to be absolutely sure.
When they let me go for the third time, they still telling me I can't
leave right away. They playing up in they ass. I didn't want to wait no
ten days again just for them to make sure I could go by myself. But
seven days pass and I am feeling so nice, I start to believe I will travel
on Sunday for sure. I drink a cold Carib because the doctors say one
drink a day is good medicine for the heart. I almost feel I could take a
smoke. The temptation strong. But not me, boy. A year or two from
now when I forget the terror I pass through, I have a feeling the battle
will be hard. But not now. Not so soon.

KYK #45

But Friday morning it is fever and pain, and when Junior come for us
to drink some coffee before the Test match start, I don't have the pride
to put on appearance to fool no man. I have to hold on to the walking
stick with two hands, bend my head over, and let my belly squeeze in
order to breathe. The Black English doctor ask me some fucking
questions she shouldn't be asking a man of my age, and shouldn't be
asking after I in the hospital so long. I am glad Junior didn't hear
because he would have make some joke about how I am just like Syl
and I can't even recognize a drawing of the thing, and how it is so long
since I bounce up one he could bet I wouldn't know the difference
between a picture of it and a dry coconut
I feel as if I am dying this time. As if something clog and the air
reach a wall at the top of my nose, and when I pull with my mouth, air
jamming again at the back of my throat. I can'tbelieve it. These mother
asses don't know what is wrong with me. They are putting me under
observation which mean I have to lie down, and they are going to wait
and see.
For three days nobody observe that I am fighting for air. On
Sunday I prop up in the bed struggling as usual to breathe, and the nurse
get up and leave saying your friend come. The next thing I know is like
Junior gone crazy in the place. I hear him telling somebody he don't
care one fuck, he is a fucking doctor too, and he know that fucking man
stifling, and they better find some way of giving him some fucking
oxygen before he dead. The fucking man he talking about is me. If I
wasn't frighten before, I frighten no arse now.
By Sunday night they have me on something called a life-support
system. They tell everybody they ventilating me, Ventilating. After
weeks and weeks of 'Nothing ain't wrong is only the medication to
adjust', they change they mind and decide the problem is the lungs. The
Black woman with the English accent say in she funny voice that the
lungs full of Gunk. If is scrabble she playing, I could think of plenty
other four letter words.
Weeks now of the needle's prick, of black and blue and red, of the
flesh bruised and dug up and plastered over, of tubes in my mouth, in
my nose, in my throat, and in openings drilled in chest, in neck, in arm,

KYK #45

in leg. I studying how I am paying all this money and they are tearing
me up, and just so I start to remember the song they they teach you to
sing when you small and stupid in school. Je teplumerai la tete. Et le
nez. Et le dos. Oh Oh. They suctioning through my mouth, they
suctioning through my nose, and the same Korean woman wants to
make a by-pass and suction through an opening she will cut in my
Every day is a different doctor, everyday is a different story. Each
new doctor have his favourite medicine he itching to try. You remem-
ber 'goes in goes out' where who get the ball, bowl and whoever knock
down the wicket, bat? It is goes in goes out they playing on my head,
and every man Ambrose pelting ball at my ass. If things wasn't so
serious in truth, I could of raise a laugh and make a ballad out of these
hospital blues.
I am a man of words and I could tell you, the metaphors and similes
these doctors using would put Lamming and Naipaul to shame. Some
of them playing police and thief, some of them fighting guerrilla war.
Hear them. They can't make a positive i.d. but they have some clues.
They eliminate some suspects, and they closing in on the elusive
bacteria. Getting on as if they want to hold press conference to
announce they have a strong lead, but time after time, the lead led to
nothing in the end. The pot-belly man say he can't be sure if the one
they pin-point is the culprit for true, or just an innocent bystander.
I should be glad they put me in a coma to keep me alive, but this
is not the way I want to live. Day in day out, I can't talk, I can't eat, I
can't drink, I can't pee, i can't shit. Most of the time, the shapes and
colours that cross my eyes are shadows I can't name. If I imagine hard,
some of the sounds I hear can turn into words. I know in my heart of
hearts that I am going. The day Jerry and Junior look at me and say I
had lovely skin and now they looking at dead man's flesh, water tried
to come to my eyes. I am angry that it is ending like this, but I try to tell
myself there is always an ending. I have always known.
There is a joy in living because you know you are going to die, and
nothing can affect that one way or another. But what am deeply afraid

KYK #45

of is that when the final call comes, I may break down and become a
jibbering piece offrightened humanity.
But when the bodi vine finish bearing aint' it does dead? Every-
thing does dead when it finish the work it have to do. Still for all that
I am glad this dying is slow. Have I finished my work? This absorbing
silence is an infinite space, and I have drifted in it towards truths that
give fight to words. The work I have done. The work I did not do.
There is greatness in the written word, and whenmen die what they
have said will live and sing for other hearts.
Aspirations of the artist as a young man. Sunlight. Thunder.
Islands. Worlds. Pinpricks on an unmarked sky. Little drops of water.
Little lights.
I lie and think of those I love and those who love me, I have never
been this close to the woman since those windy days, and I cannot even
raise a finger to let her know.
My girl, she is beautiful to look at. I have seen her in sunlight and
in moonlight, and her face carves an exquisite shape in darkness.
These things we talk, I burst out, why mustn't I say them? Ifl love you,
why shouldn't I tell you so? I love London she said.
All the words I have gathered to say to her at last, I had gathered
many times before, and always when I reached to the edge of utterance,
something would happen to make me hold back, as if saying the truth
would be too complete a surrender, as if I must wait and let her be the
one to break the silence, as if the heart that sang in the darkness of the
lonely city could not free itself from it's own choking. 'What's the
Use', as if love's innocent life-line snaps as soon as it start to find out
about life.
I have not said it, but she knows it now.
Eh, eh. All of a sudden, the great hospital changing their tune. The
long 'Je te plumerai' is over. They have plumerai'd' me into silence,
immobility and the odour of death. They have done all they can. They
cannotfind the bacteria. Ifl improve, it will not be becuase of anything
they do. The best course now is to send me abroad. It might be a virus,
and the colder countries have more experience with viruses.

KYK #45

I smile to myself, and Junior is looking at me as if he is expecting me
to say 'What fuckery'. I do not know what anancy story they spin for
the insurance company to spend all that money and send flying
ambulance for me.
My wife, she loves me, and she wants me to come home. Oh, but
when I think. Still, if this journey and this peace between the woman
and me can bring some healing, and make me at last the father and
family man I have been in my secret heart, my spirit shall return to day
and life like a backward sunset
My private jet is waiting. But I know what the native legend says.
Whether I go or whether I stay is not for me to decide. I don't know
what will happen when they move me from this bed. I don't know what
will happen on the road to the airport. I can't tell what will happen when
they try to load me onto the aeroplane.
The land knows, I have always trusted the land. Whatever it
decides will bring me peace.
Leaving the island this time, there was a great deal of anguish
because so much had been left unsaid and undone .... let cockcrow and
early bird whistle make the decision for me: let the green mountain
spin a coin in the first rays of the sun, and when it was light enough I'd
enlist the crystals of dew and the gossamer strands that spiders had
miraculously spun in space, and pass the buck to them too.
I have always loved the land (even more than the people) and it
was not too much to ask. Whatever the land gave I took without
question, and it had sent me away and it had brought me back, and it
had a certain responsibility which it respected.

Editor's Note:

This story is based upon the last weeks in the life ofSam Selvon,
who died in a hospital in Trinidad.

KYK #45


Old Manu's Gift

A long dry spell had come and parched the villages of the Essequibo
Coast. Old Manu's village, Dartmouth, was especially dry; even the
trenches were as hard as the mud dams. The villagers disliked the hot
days but loved the nights. Moon-lit nights they adored! Whenever the
moon was out, the villagers satintheiryards oron their steps and gazed
at her for hours.
It was the night of the full moon. Old Manu, who had been a
fisherman for over forty years, slipped the strap of his quake across his
shoulder and settled the fish container on his back.Then he took his
castnet in his strong right hand and headed for the sea.
Usually, Manu would go straight to the village koker channel and
begin casting his net or sit by the koker and wait for the tide to rise. On
that night, though, he often stopped to look with wonder at the beauty
of the moon. She had not too long stepped out of the Atlantic and was
resting on the tops of some courida trees. She looked like a huge,juicy,
spotless orange and Manu thought he could eat her. Her brilliant light
covered the entire village, as if it were day, but Manu thought that she
shone for him only. That had to be so, for their eyes had met and he
could see himself so plainly that she must have been examining him.
But though he could have stood there with her for the whole night, he
had to go.
As Old Manu neared the koker, he thought he saw someone. There
was nothing strange about that, as other men also fished by night. But
he could not tell for sure that it was a man! The person stood there,
backing Manu, and as still as a post he was. The old man stopped. He
could tell the other fishermen, on the darkest night, by their shapes and
how they walked. But was this man or woman? He had heard stories
of mermaids who visited kokers on moonlit nights and the thought
made him tremble with fear and joy. He was afraid that he might be
looking at the creature from the deep but he was joyful, because of the

KYK #45

story people told about her. The story was that the lovely being, whose
top half was human but who was fish from the waist down, visited
kokers on brilliant moon-lit nights. Nobody knew why she did this, but
it was said that she sat there combing her hair and that anyone who
could get her comb would be rich for life, since she would bring him
fortunes to get it back!
The old man itched, as he waited. Then, he inched forward.
Suddenly, the figure moved and he stopped. It was all in white and the
clothes did not look like a woman's, but Manu was not sure, for though
the light of the moon shone brightly on it, the figure backed him. Manu
was tempted to shout at it and to throw a piece of dry clay, but he
decided to wait. The being moved again, heading for the sea. And that
was when Manu knew! It was a woman! Her walk had told him so. It
must be a mermaid! No, that could not be, for mermaids could only
Manu felt as if he were boiling, but only his sweat poured down his
back and stomach. He followed slowly, not knowing how he did.
When she got to the edge of the water, she stood there watching the
clear silver sea. Then, several times, she bent and dipped the water in
both hands and let it fall again.
Manu had put away his quake and net and had crept close, but he
had not yet seen herface, since she still backed him. However, he was
in doubt about her, her hair was not long and flowing nor was there a
comb in it! Was she a mermaid? Whatever she was, Manu's beating
heart had slowed and much of the sweat had dried. He had never seen
the sea so beautiful. In the background was the sea of moon light; above
was a sky, as clear as a child's painting. And most of all, there was the
woman who dipped the water and let it fall.
Without warning, she walked into the water and stopped. Manu's
heart pounded. She walked farther in and stopped again. Manu thought
that she was sure to hear his heart beat. Lying flat on the mud and sand,
he crawled closer to the water. Then, like a flash of light, she
disappeared. Manu leapt to his feet. She reappeared, as suddenly as she
had vanished. Manu trembled.She disappeared again and he walked
quickly to the edge of the water. Once more, she rose very quickly and

48* KYK #45

Manu crouched. She walked farther out and stopped. She looked at the
moon. Next,she looked at the wide sea. Manu crouched lower, because
he knew what she would do next, but he was too late! She turned to see
the view behind her and saw him and, quicker and more smoothly than
a meteor, she vanished beneath the water.
Manu had had one brief glimpse of her face but, years later, he still
told the story of the most beautiful woman he had seen on the most
beautiful night. He told of his doubts about what she had been and how
sad he was that he had not got heaps and heaps of money from her. He
said, though, that he had been made eternally rich, for he would always
have the great beauty and the mystery of that silver moonlit night in his

KYK #45


The Attache Case

My eyes and hands were tired as I packed my tools and wrapped the
unused leather and tied together the four handbags I had completed for
the day when I heard the chain on the gate clanking. I dropped
everything on the workbench behind the apartment and dashed to-
wards the passageway to see who had arrived. He had already opened
the gate and was rolling his bicycle towards me.
"Good afternoon," he said with a wide and respectful smile.
"Good afternoon," I replied. He looked fresh in his sky blue shirt-
jac and his navy blue pants and well polished black shoes.
"Jennifer home?" he asked.
"Yes. Upstairs." I pointed at the upper half of the back steps.
He leaned his bicycle with one hand against the stairway and
simultaneously removed his attache case with the other hand from the
handlebar. The attache case, black and polished like his shoes, seemed
heavy to me and made him look refined.
He walked up the back stairs effortlessly, knocked on the door
three measured times and was sucked into the landlady's kitchen.
I took my tools and my day's labour into my apartment downstairs,
lit myself a cigarette, stood at the back doorway and found myself
staring at the bicycle. It had no front brake, no back fender, no bell. A
piece of stiff wire encircling a bulb at one end and hooked onto a
generator at the other end constituted the bicycle's lighting apparatus.
A triangular patch of cloth overlapped the saddle and clung to it
underneath with an elastic strap. The entire contraption cried out for a
coat of paint. I wondered whether or not Jennifer's visitor had
borrowed the bicycle; he seemed too important to own it.
An unexplained curiosity overpowered me throughout the night,
pelting my mind with questions I neverasked before then. Did Jennifer
find herself a boyfriend? Where did she meet him? What was their first
meeting like? Would my landlady upstairs approve of him? Never

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before did I associate Jennifer with a man. She seemed destined to live
the rest of her life with my childless landlady, who had adopted her
when she was a baby and had moulded her into a loyal house-servant.
Shortly after I resumed work the next morning, Jennifer came
downstairs with a tub-load of clothes to wash at the backyard stand-
pipe. She must have been reading my mind for, before her washing was
over, she crept up to my workbench, her hands gloved in lather, and
whispered, "De man you see yesterday, he look nice?" Her magenta
lips flushed and her eyes danced with expectation of approval.
"Yes. And cultured too," I replied.
Her mouth widened with satisfaction.
"Aunty Margaret say so too. Is me boyfriend, you know," she
She waited for me to say something, but I gazed at her with
unhidden surprise. Then, as if my fixed look had let loose a spring
within her, she unburdened herself. "He name Andrew." Wringing
away the lather from her hands, she went on, "Andrew Price. He say
he got a nice job at de bank. De local bank. You see dat briefcase he
come wid? He say is heavy responsibility inside. He meet me last week
when I coming home from Red Cross lessons. He tell me he bin
observing me long now. And how I look decent and quiet He say he
want tek me out for a dinner. I tell he Aunty Margaret got to say 'yes'
before I go out wid he. That's why he come yesterday afternoon."
"Aunty Margaret say 'yes' ?" I also called my landlady Aunty
Margaret, as most people did.
Jennifer nodded. "We going out tonight, but Aunty Margaret warn
he to bring me back home by nine o' clock," she said.
She asked me for a razor-blade to trim her eyebrows. I gave her a
sharp one. Somehow the sun shone brighter that day, giving the
washed clothes a newer look as they flapped spiritedly on the wire line
in the backyard.
At sundown Andrew returned. His appearance was preceded by a
compelling fragrance of some expensive cologne. His greeting to me
was as polite as on the day before. Pulling out a comb from his shirt
pocket, he dragged it through his hair methodically before setting foot

KYK #45

on the back stairway. It always was a mystery why my landlady never
opened her front door to visitors, however important they might be.
From my workbench the footsteps above sounded chaotic and
impatient. Even my landlady's leaded shuffling assumed a hurried
pace. And then, suddenly and excitedly as children released from a
classroom, Andrew and Jennifer ran down to the gate, his bicycle left
behind and her winsome smile pointing toward a sportive evening.
After packing my tools I went up to my landlady to pay the rent.
In her Berbice chair she laboured over a dog-eared receipt book,
originally custom-printed for a clock repairer's establishment that used
to be run by the man she had lived with for over thirty years. When he
died, she inherited his house in Thomas Street, Kitty, but the man had
willed his bank account and stock-in-trade to his brother. That did not
prevent her from displaying his photograph prominently on the wall
behind the Berbice chair. It was a black-and-white print, turned
yellowish, of a handsome coloured man fully garbed in a three-piece
suit, felt hat, two-toned shoes and tobacco pipe. That picture never
ceased to fascinate me.
As she handed me the receipt, my landlady noticed my interest in
the photograph.
"Walter never married me, but he used to upkeep me good," she
I fidgeted with the rent receipt.
"In we courting days, I had to be back home by eight o' clock or
get a good cut-ass", she said. "I never was too big to get licks from me
mother and father."
"Jennifer told me you allow her until nine o' clock tonight," I
ventured nervously.
"These days is modem days, and de man look decent," she said.
"And he promise to marry she."
That was a shocker. Aunty Margaret allowing Jennifer to get
married? Who would clean the house, cook the food, wash the clothes,
go to the market, take the old lady every week to her doctor in
"You will be lonely after the wedding," I said.

KYK #45

"No way," she replied quickly. 'They gon live right hey." She
stressed the "hey" by pointing an index finger downward.
Another shocker. My head became numb at the thought of an
imminent eviction. After occupying the bottom flat for nine years, and
after anchoring my workshop behind the flat all that time, I couldn't
figure out another place where I could live and work at an affordable
rent. Besides, I had built up a sizeable clientele in Kitty, and had
acquired a reputation there for making beautiful leather handbags. My
throat burned itself dry, but I managed to ask huskily: "They will be
living downstairs, Aunty Margaret ?"
"Naw, man," she assured me, pumping the index finger up and
down. "Right up hey. You think me stupid?"
A gush of relief overwhelmed me and rendered me speechless
She broke the silence. "Yuh had dinner yet ?"
"No, Aunty Margaret. I' U cook just now."
She sighed and raised herhands. "High time yuh find a wife, man,"
she said as she heaved her massive body up from the Berbice chair, left
the sitting room and disappeared into her kitchen. She reappeared with
a plastic bowl containing fried ripe plantains and salted fish, which she
placed on my lap.
"Jennifer tell yuh 'bout the man?"
"A little." I chose my words.
"if was anybody else, he cork wouldah duck. Especially dem Kitty
boys. Dem is sheer hooligans. But I hear Andrew got a good position
at the guvment bank. He briefcase alone can tell."
Amid sucking a piece of fishbone I nodded in support of her
statement, not merely because I agreed with her but moreso because
experience had taught me never to contradict her.
Buoyed by my apparent approval, Aunty Margaret leaned forward
and whispered, eyeing the front windows: "Yuh know how much
people envy poor Jennifer now? Me hear they talking she name at Kitty
market every day."
"People will say anything." Again I chose my words.
"They can talk they bellyful, but me aint care, darling. They cyaan

KYK #45

stop Jennifer from becoming Mistress Price." She emphasized the
Pausing to light herself a cigarette, she said, "Ah hear they
laughing Andrew on he rokotok bicycle, but wait, puppy gone turn
dog. Andrew say he in line fo promotion soon and he go get car and car
allowance. He deserve it, you know.When dem gossipers snoring in
they bed is then Andrew does open he briefcase and wuk pon
documents. He say he wukload too heavy to finish daytime."
After the meal I also smoked a cigarette, relishing the feeling that
I had been spared the task of cooking that evening. It started to rain and
I felt comfortable and prepared for a long conversation with my
landlady. She usually became garrulous whenever she collected her
rent. Now, the new development in her household assumed the
proportion of a major event in her life and she could not restrain her
She shared with me her regret at not having a formal wedding with
Walter, the clock repairer she lived with. However, she would make up
for her loss by arranging a simple but conspicuous nuptial for Jennifer.
She would hire a car and have it decorated and after the civic ceremony
at the Registrar's Office in Georgetown she would make the driver
blare the hom continuously when the car returned to Kitty. An
important young man like Andrew Price deserved a more lavish affair,
Aunty Margaret lamented, but she would try her best within her means.
When Andrew arrived the next afternoon he initiated a chat with
me at my workbench. No doubt, he had been briefed about my shaky
occupation. He proceeded to advise me on the virtues of a savings
account and other plans for financial security. As I was self-employed,
he showed me different ways to prepare for my old age. He reeled out
a series of banking jargon so quickly that I lost the essence of his
proffered counsel. I managed to single out the term "equity annuity"
and asked him to explain its meaning. He rested his briefcase on my
workbench and deftly turned the numbers of its gold-plated combina-
tion locks. I expected him to pull out a fact sheet, brochure or even a
book. His thumbs eased off the locks. The briefcase remained shut.
"Equity annuity means just what it says," he spurted out confi-

KYK #45

dently. "You receive your investment back in equal parts every year.
Principal plus compound interest."
The words sounded impressive, although I wished I had seen them
in print.
"Think about it," Andrew said authoritatively, straightening his
shirt-jac. "If you ever decide to take a firm grip on your future, I'll be
always here to help you. Jenny must be getting impatient I'd better go
I thanked him for his advice and looked on as he walked up the
stairway. About half way up he suddenly stumbled. The attache case
flew out of his hand, hit one step and bounced away in a small arc
towards the concrete floor before me. I jumped to catch it, but could
not. With a thud it landed, snapped open and out rolled three shrivelled
boulangers. The hapless attache case lay empty.
Above me Andrew leaned on the rail, frozen. His face became
grim and twisted. Streams of sweat broke out on his forehead.
I gave him a forgiving smile. He did carry some responsibility in
that briefcase, after all.

KYK #45

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a Profile


Profile of Wilson Harris

The legacy of Wilson Harris is a legacy of myth and legend. He is a
writer who has deliberately thrown out a great deal of the social realism
on which a lot of European fiction is built and has gone straight for the
legendary, the mythological and in a powerful and visionary way, in
a way that's similar to Neruda, the poet, and other great South
American writers such as Marquez. Or in the case of European writers,
I would say he is more on the level of Blake and Milton. That level of
writing has been forgotten in Europe.

Guyanese writer, Pauline Melville, placing Wilson Harris in the
particular tradition of the European writer as a visionary and a
philosopher. Wilson Harris was born in 1921 in what was British
Guiana in South America. He has written nineteen novels and two
collections of short stories. This month sees the publication of his latest
novel, Resurrection At Sorrow Hill.
Like his previous work, it too is preoccupied with the Amazonian
rain forest basin which flanks Guyana and its neighbours, Venezuela
and Brazil. He is widely recognized as the Caribbean novelist whose
work best embodies the slave and colonial history of the region as well
as the myths and legends of the indigenous peoples whose presence
pre-date that of both Europeans and Africans.
Wilson Harris, you worked for many years as a Chief Surveyor for
the Guyanese Government This involved mapping out parts of the
rivers that run through the rain forest. It's clear from your novels the
experience made a deep and lasting impression on you.

KYK #45

It is true that the impact that the rain forest made on me was very
profound. The very first expedition I made the first major expedition
- was into the Cuyuni River. We had to make our way through what
is known as the CamariaRapids. Those are forbidden rapids but we had
to survey those rapids. Rather than going around the rapids on a
portage, as surveyors, we had to go into the rapids and we had to move
with men who knew the area extremely well. And the impact that made
on me is quite incredible. It comes early in Palace where one has this
sense of the extraordinary life of the rapids that seems to well up
through oneself as well as through the rapids themselves. And I had
this odd sensation that this is how the gods must have been created
through, I mean, the voices that came through the rapids and every-
thing else. One could understand in ancient times how men had this
sensation of gods moving in places, in water, in fires, in floods, in trees,
in rocks. It was a primordial kind of sensation.

WILSON HARRIS (reads from Palace of the Peacock):
The map of the savannahs was a dream. The names Brazil and
Guyana were colonial conventions I had known from childhood. I
clung to them now as to a curious necessary stone and footing, even
in my dream, the ground I knew I must not relinquish. They were an
actual stage, a presence, however mythical they seemed to the
universal and the spiritual eye. They were as close ic me as my ribs,
the river and the flatland, the mountains and heartland I intimately

I could not help cherishing my symbolic map, and my bodily
prejudice like a well-known room and house of superstition within
which I dwelt I saw this kingdom of man turned into a colony and
battleground of spirit, a priceless tempting jewel I dreamed I

I pored over the map of the sun my brother had given me. The river
of the savannahs wound its way far into the distance until it had
forgotten the open land. The dense dreaming jungle and forest

KYK #45

I asked Edward Blishen about his first encounter with a Wilson Harris

Oh I remember very vividly: first it was very short and I love short
books because I could see at once it was a short, compact book. I
thought I'd never get into it because it was obviously crammed from
end to end. Then I found it was terribly easy to get into. It was easy to
get into because he writes in a way which everyone is familiar with:
that is, the narrative connections and associations are those of dreams,
I think. Actually reading it is just like reading a splendid dream. And
the language is so magnificent. I think it's magnificent when it baffles
me. He's one writer I enjoy being baffled by, and going back and -
where I can unbaffling myself. It's partly the language, it's partly the
fact that it introduces me to a world so absolutely tight, hot, crammed
withmeaning, crammed with tragedy, crammed withlaughter, crammed
- he has a phrase somewhere about, I think, "the toughest breed of
sensibility ever known to the world". There is a tough sensibility at
work, I think that's what thrills me about him.

Wilson once said something I've never forgotten: he said, "I went out
to map the land and the land mapped me." Wilson's is a voice that
comes out of the bush, comes out of the jungle, a very solitary voice;
it's not a metropolitan voice. But it's also a voice of somebody who
took into the jungle with him Plato and Socrates and Shakespeare and
stories of Quetzalcoatl, the Macusi bone flute, and the civilisation of
the Incas. So he had his own private melting pot when he was sitting
in the bush with his crew.

Pauline Melville refers there to your eclectic reading within the
European canon as you construct a way of writing about the Caribbean
with its complex mixture of races and recent volatile history. You

KYK #45

appear to be searching for a language to match the experience of the
Guyanese interior. And it occurs to me that there is a continuous
interplay between language and landscape in your novels. The land-
scape appears to dictate the language that is used to talk about it.

What started to happen, as I look back on it, was a very peculiar thing.
I had read quite widely. When I went into the rain forest reading was
something that gave me immense pleasure. So I'd read French novels,
English novels, right across. But I could not really respond to that
world in terms of the sheer comedy of manners novel which I knew
well. There may have been some kind of insinuation that I could draw
perhaps from Herman Melville, but I was very much on my own. And
I had to think of much older traditions than the novel at a certain level
in attempting to write about the interior. But also what started to
happen was this: I began to move into the language and to move into
what I call densities and you could see the densities there, the rock
in the waterfall, the turbulence of the river, the way the forest on either
side came over, you know. The whole experience was utterly different
from the coastlands as if one had actually adventured to another planet.
The language was becoming a world in itself. So the language was
becoming another dimension away from a photographic image of the
bush or the river. One could take photographs of the forest, of the river,
one could take photographs of the bush. But those were all on the
surface. Landscape has been treated as a purely aesthetic medium in
which you would speak of the mountains and the grass in a one-
dimensional way. But landscape is a matter of dimensions. So that
even though I have left Guyana, the rain forest, which made such an
amazing impact upon me, I could walk in Essex and at times I could
sense a return to that South American world. Essex, as you know, is
quite open and you get this sense of return. Also the light that comes
up from the East Anglian coast and sweeps across, occasionally brings
this sense of an arch that goes back to some of the sunsets I saw in
Guyana. It's as if you're living in a theatre and the curtain rises and falls
between different worlds.

KYK #45

I really like that image. It seems to me that you are writing out of a
colonial experience and you seem to be stretching the parameters of a
novel to include that experience. You're not alone in this attempt to
revise the conventional expectations of the novel. In fact, I'd say
you're in very good company since it goes back to Laurence Steme's
Tristram Shandy through to James Joyce. I'm thinking now of the
narrative tradition you were working against.

It is not that I had dispensed with tradition, but that I realized that the
novel tradition is a very recent invention. It may be a useful invention,
it was invented in Europe to hold up a mirror to the way European
societies were built within comparatively recent times. Why should
the novel apply to areas of the world such as South America where you
have cross-culturality on a scale that is very self-evident? I mean you
can't escape from it. you may escape from it in Europe because to a
large extent there is a homogeneity in Europe which can entrench itself
at the centre. And even though you have immigrants coming in they
remain very much on the margins. They may eventually penetrate into
the centre as well. Well, you can't do that in Guyana. You know in
Guyana that you have to deal with cross-culturality: not only the
Indians and Africans and the Portugese and the Chinese, who are
minorities anyway. But remember the Portugese may be a majority in
Brazil which is next door. And the American Indians, though they are
a minority, are the oldest people there. So you have all these contradic-
tions. Therefore you need an orchestration of imageries and resources
and histories ancient and past, modem and ancient, that may not be
contained in the novel form that one associates with Europe. Thus one
had to find traditions older than the novel, as well as to find within
oneself the originality to cope with the stresses that one faced. Because
it is so easy to succumb to the temptations of writing a kind of novel
with the linear biases you associate with the conventional novel which
will appeal to the colonial masters, the institutions that still govern

KYK #45

So that there's a vested interest in the Jane Austen novel, in the Dickens
novel, in the Hardy novel. And writers from the colonial world who
write in that vein are likely to be the blue-eyed boys of the establish-
ment. But that doesn't mean that this other world is not crying out for

That other world, as Harris describes it, manifests itself in the use of
a particular language. Writer and critic David Dabydeen:

I think that in a sense Harris has creolised the English language but in
a much more unfamiliar way. He's not creolised it in the sense that
you'd expect, using the sort of language of Sam Selvon or Linton
Kwesi Johnson. But what he's done is that he's taken a language to
describe a landscape a landscape which is intrinsically magical and
mysterious and he's twisted and torn the language and broken it and
let the sentences run on and on so there's a total confusion: an anarchy
of verbs, an anarchy of subjunctive clauses. And to me that's a fantastic
measure of his achievement, because he's taken the language to the
very edge of breakdown of meaning and then brought it back, so that
you get fantastic moments of illumination when you can see very
deeply into the prose.

WILSON HARRIS (reads from Carnival):
Everyman Masters celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday in the summer
of 1982 with several glasses of red wine he consumed in a pub. He
returned home intoxicated and, ascending the stairs to his flat in
Holland Park, came upon her again, the woman who had moved in
within the past week to occupy theapartmentabove his. He had caught
a glimpse of her then but now it was as if he knew her for certain, and
everything he had surmised in their previous encounter was true. In
her lay the climax of Carnival, the terror of dying, the bliss of
reciprocal penetration of masks. She was tall, slender, very white; her
skin was transparent yet stood beneath or within coal black hair.

KYK #45

She gave him a faint, pointed smile of recognition. A needle seemed
to stitch a spirit on to her lips. Red wine for thread. White skin for
fabric. Blackest hair for a veil or net All these the glimmering
shadow of a star in a glass of wine, the net of whiteness and blackness
like the painted apparition of a ghostly storm were substitutes for
another presence as if they were all Carnival fabric, as if they were all
animate costume saturated by the wine of memory, the strangest
sacrament of jealousy and love that binds one to involuntary divinity,
plagued humanity, with which one wrestles across the years.

Her subtle red lips were stitched by the needle of space into another
woman's jealous mouth. Yes, it was true. He saw it all. He remem-

You have spoken, Wilson, of an ancient past It strikes me that this is
slightly different to a personal past that might be ascribed to a
character. For example, in your latest novel, Resurrection At Sorrow
Hill, the character Hope dreams he has been shot. Through the process
of a descent into his own death, he is able to recover some strategy for
survival and for seeing his life more clearly. Would it be fair to say that
there is an ancient past and a more personal one, so that the two make
history at least a plural notion?

Yes, that is true. With regard to the ancient past, the characters are dual
personalities. Monty believes at times that he's Montezuma, the
Emperor of the Aztecs. Monty is Venezuelan. Len was a professor in
a Brazilian university, and believes that he is Leonardo Da Vinci. They
have suffered a certain kind of breakdown in the asylum. And the
asylum is a theatre. The asylum is a theatre therefore of the ancient past
which comes abreast of the present moment through these dual
personalities. To a great extent this simultaneous rapport of times and
histories comes into play so that one has an acute sensation of how the
legacies of the past bear upon the present moment

KYK #45

I agree. I can see how all of this is played out with nature at the centre
of things. And your idea of nature goes beyond the Wordsworthian
notion which argues that nature is a force we can benefit from by
knowing about Your view on the other hand sees nature and humanity
as somehow symbiotically related with nature as a character or
characters in dialogue with people.

Yes, I feel that very deeply. We have locked out from ourselves so
many areas of nature which we have tended to manipulate, or despoil,
or ravage, so that we live in a situation in which nature itself at times
seems to be alien to ourselves; nature seems to threaten us. So we tend
to lock ourselves into one dimension, one human dimension so-called.
And the resurrection of meaning lies in our capacity to cross from one
dimension to others. Because if you remain locked in one dimension,
the world becomes a very threatening place. It becomes so threatening
that things that happen to us seem random, seem meaningless. So this
question of nature, how one opens up the other dimensions in nature,
becomes critical to a resurrection of meaning. Because that is when we
begin to sense that the world that is alien, that is out there, also has
something to say tous that is deeply important if we are to come to grips
with the hideous polarisations that afflict us.

I wonder if we can move on to this idea you have written about
concerning faculties that reside in nature. Because these give shape
and direction to the characters you have invented over and above your
own control of them as author.

Well, what has happened is that precisely because of the kind of
voyage one has been making, in which one has a sense of the
orchestration of the ancient and the modem, of dimensions in nature,
as we've been discussing this, there's a strange paradox in that a
character can suddenly take over. This has been happening for some
time but it is particularly marked in the Carnival Trilogy and in
Resurrection because I regard myself as the editor. Resurrection, as

KYK #45

you know, is Hope's book; and then there is Robin Redbreast Glass,
The Infinite Rehearsal is his book. Everyman Masters has written

How exactly does this happen as a process?

It seems to me that it happens in the sense that connections appear in
the book which I did not control or consciously design. I worked with
great concentration with these intuitive clues, revising through them.
And in that way, revising through them, it is as if one was informed by
a stranger or strangers in the self. And therefore these connections
disclose themselves with hindsight, though they were there at the time.
So I could read some ofmy own novels as ifI did not write them. I know
that I wrote them. But I can come to them with a degree of objectivity.
I am never embarrassed when I speak of a novel of mine because there
is no egocentric motivation in it. I'm simply speaking of a work which
seems to me to be alive, to be a living text And the way this has become
a living text is mysterious because of strangers in the self. Thus in order
to record one's debt to these strangers, a particular character looms in
one's mind and one invests him with this comedy of creation. It is a
comedy, a unique kind of comedy to say that Hope wrote the book
Resurrection At Sorrow Hill or that Anselm wrote the Four Banks of
the River of Space. It is unique comedy but it also has this reality in
it. It has this reality to do with the extra human world, the world beyond
our human logic, the world that is deeper than logic in the purely
human absolute sense.

I'd like to talk to you now aboutthe way you've organised some of your
books around European epics. In a way they become Caribbean epics,
once you've handled them. For example, when you quote these
classics and epigraphs, they appear to be signposts. I think your term
for it is "a validation of your thinking".

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I think that's a very important question because what began to happen
as I was engaged in this exploration is that I found myself drawing
closer to figures like Homer, Dante, Goethe. But drawing closer to
them in ways that I would never have imagined possible. That was one
aspect of it The other aspect is this -that from childhood, these figures
have been imposed on me: through the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy or
Faust. I had therefore to come to them from the extremities of the
civilisation. Because I believe that South America is at the extremities
of the western world. I don't see South America as Third World perse,
but at the margins or extremities. Now "margins" for me is not a
denigratory word. Margins simply mean that you can tilt the whole
area and you dislodge certain boundaries and you see them differently.
And I was able to enter into these three epics in that tilted way because
since these had been imposed on me, it seemed to me utterly necessary
to approach them from another angle. So, for example, in The Four
Banks Odysseus is not one figure, Odysseus is a plural figure; there is
Harold who is Odysseus, Harold who is a kind of womaniser, there's
Proteus the drunkard, he's an Odysseus figure; there is Simon, The
Englishman; also Penelope, there are several figures that portray
Penelope. One is saying that these figures can come home to us through
different masks, indeed, through different cultures.

I'd be interested to know about your notion of home. You've lived in
Britain for many years now. It seems to be at least a plural notion, a
definition of home that is shifting. A so-called post-colonial con-
sciousness coupled with a counciousness that has travelled, having
acquired a second cultural layering and sense of belonging. There is
this idea that the imagination is the ultimate home or theatre where this
rehearsal, reviewing and re-imagining takes place. For this conscious-
ness, home is a complex notion: open-ended, fragile and vulnerable.
Each generation it seems has to re-define home for itself. Would that
be a reasonable description of "home" for you?

KYK #45

I would say, Fred, that from the main thrust of your remarks, you've
defined "home" beautifully as I would see it.

There is a relevant passage in your new novel, Resurrection AtSorrow
Hill, a short poem, in fact



Would Butterfly
bear him a child
with Mr. Universe's name,
a child small, tender as a leaf?
Uprooted populations
voyaging in space
are written into a tree
that breaks the cross, breaks the crucifixion,
into a pregnant hollow and vessel of soul.

I listen to the dry beak of a master spirit singing
and am told
we are born with the dead and their expedition of soul.

Home is the moment of the rose.
Home is the moment of the yew tree.

Home is the sculpture of the rain
into rivers as gentle as singing grass...

Now "we're born with the dead" came from T.S. Eliot. But it's
extended into "their expedition of soul." Their expedition of soul"
suggests that "soul" works through densities. I mean, ourbody is a kind
of density through which soul may sing when we least expect it. And
soul may also give fire to the imagination, as if soul brings in to us

KYK #45

elements that we would normally simply place on a wall, in a picture
or in a museum, or simply see it as something performed, as a
performance. Whereas it is coming through the density of our lives in
spite of the devastation of the world of landscapes. In spite of all that
has happened, we have some involuntary connection with this globe
which is our home. I think that "home" signifies squl: that without a
sense of soul, which reaches through us and.beyond us, there is no
home for humanity. Humanity is utterly lost. It is this gestation of soul,
this spark of soul that can appear anywhere else, that becomes one's
promise of home because the host resides there, the host that welcomes
us in resides there. We can no longer think of home as
compartmentalised, home is not just the surfaces of the globe, home is
this gestation of soul which allows us our sense of kinship with
creatures, with strange messengers, with angels if you like, and with
human beings like ourselves, and to recognize how vulnerable we are
because we can be swept away. We can disappear like any other

A BBC Radio 4 Kaleidoscope Feature first broadcast on 27 November
Produced by Fred D'Aguiar.

ITranscription published by kind permission of Wilson Harris and
Fred D'Aguiar, and the producer of the programme, Razia Iqbal.
Extracts from 'Palace of the Peacock', 'Carnival' and 'Resurrec-
tion at Sorrow Hill' reprinted by kind permission of Faber and

KYK #45



An Interview with Fred D' Aguiar

You were born in London, in 1960, ofGuyanese parents; then in 1962
you were taken to Guyana where you remained until 1972 when you
went back to London. While you were at school in Guyana, do you
recall any influences that may have led to your writing poetry?

Yes, I remember an East Indian teacher read poetry and nursery
rhymes to us and would get us to say things from memory. There was
also my grandfather [on my mother's side] who liked Tennyson and
Victorian poetry Palgrave's Golden Treasury. He was a merchant
seaman who would be away for long periods when he would learn
poetry by heart, and recite it to us from memory when he came home.
The radio also had a powerful influence on us. We listened to calypsos
and learned them by heart. So, alongside heraldic English poetry with
its Tennysonian, Victorian metres, we also had some crude creole
poetry bursting over the air-waves into our ears.

Didyou see any local writing by Martin Carter or A J. Seymour,for

I know from talking to other Guyanese, that people used to recite
Martin Carter's poems at street comers, and dramatists would practise
reading his poems as a way of presenting their own work. But it didn't
filter down to us in school. I don't think my grandfather would
have countenanced anyone mentioning Martin Carter in the same
breath as Tennyson.

What happened when you returned to London in 1972 ?

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My parents' marriage had dissolved, and we [children] came back to
a house with one parent. It wasn't as distressing as it might have been,
partly because of the newness of England. Our Guyanese relatives had
always made us feel that we were English children waiting to be sent
home to England. We enjoyed all the novelties of England, although
we missed relatives back in Guyana. After my A-lvel school exams,
I went into psychiatric nursing for three years before going on to

It sounds like a big changefrom psychiatric nursing to university and,
I presume, an arts degree?

I'm glad it happened that way because by the time I came to reapply
to university, after nursing, I had heard about the University of Kent's
course in African and Caribbean literature- it was quite new then- and
I went for that instead. There was nothing else to do but read and write
while I was nursing. I knew by then that I'd be a poet of some kind.

When did you begin writing poetry?

At secondary school.

Was there any encouragement from teachers?

I had a couple of very good English teachers at secondary school. They
gotme involved in the school magazine, and I edited one issue of it with
a lot of poetry. But I never thought of black subjects or West Indian
things like carnival as subjects to write about.

How did you respond to University?

Valerie Bloom was in herlast orsecond last year at Kent when I arrived
there. She was already known as a poet. I had published one or two
poems in magazines, and people were talking about me as one of the
up-and-coming Caribbean writers. There was also the whole canon of

KYK #45

Brathwaite and Walcott that I was furiously reading through. But,
before that, I had already started reading people like Lamming when
I was a psychiatric nurse. I worked my way through Caribbean
literature, re-familiarizing myself with the region in a strange way,
because I had been away from it for all those years in London while I
was at secondary school. I also read African American novels, for
example, The Invisible Man [1952] by Ralph Ellison.

And [James] Baldwin?

Yes, I read Baldwin with great excitement: his essays were very strong.

Apart from Valerie Bloom, was there anyone else at university that you
met or whose work caught your interest?

Sandra Agard was known as a black woman poet in London in the mid-
1980s, and she was at Kent. Achebe's two children were also studying
there at the time. Achebe and other writers visited and read from their
work. So, there was a feeling of something exciting happening. I had
not read African literature until I took the course for which I applied
and opened ThingsFallApart. The course introduced me to Ama Ata
Aidoo, Ayi Kwei Armah, and other writers. It tied culture and history
with literature, so the literature wasn't taken out of context.

That was quite an awakening obviously. It must have influenced you
during university and perhaps immediately afterwards.

Mama Dot [London: Chatto & Windus, 1985] came out while I was
just finishing my degree at Kent. I got a first class degree and applied
to do a Ph.D. on Wilson Harris at the University of Warwick. I was
going to work with Michael Gilkes who wrote a very good study of
Harris. But, in trying to make ends meet, I got diverted, and did a
writer-in-residency, part-time, at Birmingham Polytechnic. Immedi-
ately after that, a writer-in residency came up at Cambridge Univer-
sity, where I spent another year. By that time, Wilson Harris studies
had receded from my mind, and I was writing all the time.

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Both Mama Dot and Airy Hall [London: Chatto & Windus, 1989] are
divided into three parts of which thefirst is biographical, dwelling,for
example, on aspects of Mama Dot's life and character; the second is
more general, commenting on the society and people; while the third
reflects on the whole experience of the society and all that is involved
therein. Is that more or less how the structure of these two volumes

Yes. I had a body of poems that I made up around the character of
Mama Dot, who was slightly larger than life, and I found other poems
for example, Dreadtalk [28-31] which is a long creole-type poem
about Britain. There were other characters and poems which didn't
quite fit into the Mama Dot body of poems because they were more
overtly political or seemed to be doing otherthings. Then the third part
looked back at the whole experience of childhood. I was particularly
interested in literacy in that long poem Guyanese Days that forms Part
Three [43-48]. I had an awareness of being caught up in the sounds,
smells, and innocence of running around in Airy Hall [a village on the
Atlantic coast of Guyana], which didn't quite mix with the formality
of having to read and write. The sensual experiences didn't seem to
correspond with trying to write on a slate in a sequential way. I
remember also the feeling of liberation when I did learn to read; so I
tried in Guyanese Days to look at the notion of someone who is aware
of the printed page while being steeped in an oral culture, at the
contrast between the two.

I think that Guyanese Days fully captures the day-to-day actuality of
the life you are describing. I can relate it back to my own experience
in Guyana in the 1940s and 1950s.

Country life is country life.

It is earthy and vigorous the same for Zola's peasants as for
Chekhov's muziks. So there is no intentional meaning in your three
part structure.

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No, I didn't consciously think of innocence, experience, death, or
anything like that I had a body of poems which just put themselves in
that sort of order. The same is true for my Airy Hall sequence in which
I examine place. The poems all work together.

I divide yourpoems into three categories, thefirst ofwhich is political.
This includes poems in which you make observations about life in
Guyana under [Forbes] Burnham. For instance, in El Dorado Up-
date[32-351 you talk sincerely about the "fowl coop republic" [351,
and mockingly ask, "what people, what nation, what destiny ?" [35].
In Letter from Mama Dot [20-211 you have such lines as "With all the
talk of nationality we still hungry" [20] and, "People are stabbing one
another for a place" [20] in a queue. Such lines express great
disappointment in Independence. In fact, in the same poem you write:
"Since Independence / This country hasn't stopped stepping back"
[20]. Surely Guyanese had a right to expect that Independence would
benefit them. Yet this has not happened. You record the continuing
suffering and deprivation ofGuyanese under Burnham: but you do not
condemn anyone. I am struck by the absence of any instinct to blame.
Your quiet recording of the human toll of Guyanese politics suggests
deep and genuine affection for the victims afirm bond of unspoken
communal solidarity with them. But you don't cry out.

You draw your own conclusion, I think. In writing about politics, I felt
I should try and step back from any emotional attempt to lay blame or
responsibility. I felt there are other forms of writing where that could
be done more properly. The appeal of a poem should be in the way the
images work. Sentiment would have to be kept under tight rein if I were
to communicate a sense of hunger, distress, deprivation, inhumanity,
or injustice, and communicate it in a way that was loyal to poetry-
making. I felt if I were loyal to certain rules in poetry, I would better
serve the community about which I was writing. One of the rules was
not to stand on a soap box, because people might stop listening.
Another was that people who heard my message might be the very
people who perpetrated the terrible things I described, and might not


KYK #45

want to listen if Ijudged them: I didn't want to cast the first stone. I felt
there would be no progress if I took sides. Besides, I was interested in
the lyrical line. I like poetry which will both sound good and prove to
be memorable; and I do try to secrete one ortwo overt political phrases
in the course of my poems, which show clearly that I am not sitting on
the fence.

My second category includes whatI call evocative poems,for example
Mama Dot Warns Against an Easter Rising [17] and particularly
Guyanese Days. In these poems, or in Airy Hall [9] and Airy Hall
Wash-Boy [12], you present everyday occurrences or scenes and
evoke their uniquely Guyanese or Caribbean qualities, that is to say,
their openness, freshness, and lack of restrictive conventions. More
than thirty years ago I recall Selvon, Salkey, CarewLamming, and
other Caribbean writers using West Indian speech and local experi-
ences in somewhat exotic fashion because they aimed their work at an
English audience. Do you write with a particular audience in mind ?

When I wrote those poems I didn't think of an audience; I wrote them
for a personal, or selfish reason. I'd seen Airy Hall change beyond
recognition, so I tried in my poems to rescue a place which I had in my
head and heart, but which didn't exist anymore. Each memory is
exactly as I remember it when I was there, and each now has an
emotional weight forme, because I played in those trees and ran on that
red sand road, which is now paved, while the trees have been cut down.
I was aware of creating an emotional map of a place and of superim-
posing it on a geography that no longer existed. My second reason for
writing is that I realized that all black British children would know was
Britain they may have an inkling of another place, of Caribbean
music, reggae, or of stories heard from their parents but they would
not have first-hand experience of them. I had ten years in the Carib-
bean, and those impressions were clearly in my head; but they were
colliding with English rhythms. I therefore have a twin heritage -
literature written by other Caribbean writers about a Caribbean setting
that I know, and literature about an English landscape or location. In

KYK #45

my poems I wanted to put the two against each other. I wanted to use
an English way of speaking that went back to Wordsworth and before,
and set against it a countrified, Guyanese experience, including the
creole language.

They fit together very well, with the creole language adding colour
and texture to the standard English and creating a mixed medium that
is true to its subject and coherent at the same time. Basically, it is the
contact between England and the Caribbean that you are recording.
But you have an insider's viewpoint that Selvon, Salkey, and the
earlier writers did not have. This is an advantage that you have over
these earlier writers. You also have an advantage over younger
Caribbean writers living in the diaspora because of your first-hand
Caribbean experience during those ten childhood years in Guyana.

I had come through the late 1970s when there were racial riots in
England, for example, at Notting Hill. These riots made everyone
aware of a young black population that was growing up in England.
Then, in 1981, the Brixton riots were even more disastrous, and
affected black communities right across the country. By then, people
were talking about the black British experience so I couldn't pretend
that black Caribbean immigrants living in Britain did not form a unique
community. At the same time leaving the Caribbean and coming to
Britain wasn't like leaving one planet and going to the next; there was
direct continuity between the two places. I had to try to bring that home
to the children of Caribbean immigrants in Britain who did not know
the Caribbean.

That gives you a role as interpreter or arbitrator, someone who can
bring two opposed sides together. But in a poem like Guyanese Days,
you mention "coconuts banging grooves in the mud", "a Downs-
tree", "splintery plimplers", "a stinging marabunta" [43], and so
on.What effect do such expressions have on your [white] English
readers who, I believe, are still your main audience ?

KYK #45

I don't have footnotes; but I expect that interested readers could find
out about those things or look them up in a dictionary. All those things
were part of my childhood experience. I was preoccupied with child-
hood as an experience that was lost and replaced by adult life. I knew
from Wordsworth's Prelude, and other similar works, for instance,
Derek Walcott's Another Life that writers appear to go through a
period where they have to assess their early years in order to move on,
or at least use the assessment as a yardstick to judge other things.
When I was writing about childhood, even though I was specific about
Guyana, I knew I was on a big, wide field with many other players. So
I didn't feel I was being exotic or marginal at all. I just felt that I had
to be specific.

But when you mention a "train-crushed knife" [44] in Guyanese
Days, the phrase cannot communicate to an English reader what it
communicates to me. Maybe it is similar to our reading ofpoems like
Wordsworth's sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge, Septem-
ber 3, 1802 when we were in school in the Caribbean, or to your
grandfather's response when he recited Tennyson's Lady of Shallot.
I believe that these words, like many others, evoke a local as well as
universal level ofresponse, and just as West Indians might have failed
to pick up the local level of response in some traditional English
poems, English readers may now have difficulty in picking up the local
references in your work. In your creole language poems my third
category which have the strongest local flavour, for
example,Dreadtalk, Mama Dot Warns Against an Easter Rising, and
El Dorado Update one can't miss the outspoken earthiness of the
Caribbean language, which acquires force, again largely local in
character, through its incorporation of oral elements -popular songs
and calypsos and references to political events and personalities.
Your creole poems will appeal most powerfully to readers whose first
language is creole, but that shouldn't make them totally inaccessible
to other readers.

I was aware of holding a microphone in El Dorado Update to a place
that had gone down the road of destitution. I wanted to record the spirit

KYK #45

of that experience, so I surrendered my pen to those people to try and
get their own phrasings, the exact things they were saying. Then I had
to put all those voices togetherin some kind of order. It is different from
my usual method of finding an image of my own that would channel
the people's thoughts and emotions. Here, I did it the other way around:
I found a phrase from the community and tried to see if it carried my
thoughts and feelings I was trying to be more loyal to the group I was

Loyalty comes through both volumes a genuine sense of affection or
delight in your Guyanese origin, despite those unpleasant aspects of
it that you report. It is not a lyrical evocation like Laurie Lee's
autobiographical Cider with Rosie [1959].

Actually nostalgia is a pitfall. Another pitfall is an over-lyrical way of
writing that romanticizes one's material. I try to avoid those two
problems by giving my writing a hard edge all the time. Whenever I
find myself being over-lyrical, I introduce political observation, or
something that is slightly harder.

Your poems in both books are indeed hard-edged, conveying sentiment
withoutbeing sentimental. You reproduce concrete experiencefrankly,
without frills. To achieve this you use varied techniques andforms.
Some stanzas are three lines, some two lines, and some five or six lines.
Where do your techniques and forms come from? Are you aware of
consciously responding to specific writers, styles, or principles?

From Milton's Paradise Lost I get a sense of the poet speaking to a
multitude about man's first disobedience and other subjects of equally
grand importance and weight. That's one strain of voice in me. Then
I sometimes hear a less public voice like Philip Larkin's which I just
happen to overhear because it is fine, domestic, and very quiet,
expressing itself in small sayings and throw-away phrases, which
undermine and work against the lofty, heraldic Miltonic voice. In
addition to these voices, and those of contemporary figures from the

KYK #45

recent past Yeats and Eliot, principally I also hear Claude McKay
whose poetry and novels I very much like, especially his early volumes
ofpoetry, Songs ofJamaica [1912] and Constabulary Ballads [1912].
In everything I write, I'm pushing against what's been done before. Of
course, in writing 'Mama Dot Warns Against an Easter Rising', the
line lengths were dictated by breath. The line 'Dogn raise no kite is
good friday' [17] has a natural length based on how Mama Dot would
say it.

It is based on Guyanese speech rhythms that we immediately recog-

Exactly. There was nothing telling me to include two or five beats per
line. As to the form, I knew I wanted to tell a story. As long as it took
to tell the story, that's how long the poem would be. Then the language
had to be creole to be plausible in terms of the character and her
environment; it couldn't be in standard English. Those are the kinds of
rules I followed. The community I was observing was not a literary
community; it was essentially oral-based. My poems have many
sources, some literary, some based on experience, and others made up
or imagined.

But the fact that you can consider Guyanese subjects so naturally in
poems published in England seems a phenomenon in itself. Selvon.
Salkey, Lamming, and the others could not write as naturally in the

The difference between Selvon and myself is that I do not have to
explain everything. Selvon was creating an audience as he wrote. In
other words, his story had to have all the necessary constituents to
make it understood by an audience who had no idea where it was
coming from. Today, after Selvon has written in that way, I know that
I can take a number of things for granted. There is now an audience for
my writing, and I know they will take the trouble to find out things they
do not understand in my poems. Also, there is more knowledge about
the West Indies from newspapers, television, and travel. Derek Walcott

KYK # 45

said that in his day the only fruit he could put in his poems was an apple;
he couldn't put a mango, for instance. I was stunned, because by the
time I came to write Mama Dot in 1985, I could mention mango and
apple in the course of a poem without any trouble. That shows how
things have changed in one generation. In the book I am now writing,
British Subjects, I'm trying to discuss Caribbean experience as part of
a British cultural identity. Nowadays, Caribbean culture in Britain is
no longer exotic, marginal, remembered, or in the process of being
introduced to a host nation. The British host identity itself actually
consists of Caribbean elements.

Contemporary British culture has Caribbean components in the same
way that it has Jewish, Asian, or Greek Cypriot components, and even
as it has older regional variations in Cornwall, Wales, or Yorkshire.

Absolutely. Now poems can mention all those tropical Caribbean
fruits because they are available in stalls and supermarkets all over
London. In my writing, I have to respond to changing attitudes toward
the Caribbean.

In doing that, you are acknowledging the evolution of a Caribbean
literary tradition in which one generation uses their social and
cultural conditions and sources to create literature, and in the process
stimulate interest in their subject andfind an audience for it; then, a
later generation builds on what they have created. By writing as you
do, you are being truthful to your time, place, and experience. You
don't write like Selvon or Walcott; you write like someone from your
generation. But is it not realistic to expect that the purely Caribbean
characteristics ofyour generation- inEngland, Canada, andAmerica-
will tend to diminish through inter-marriage and otherfactors ? What
implications might this have for Caribbean art and literature ?

Wilson Harris, who has been in England for nearly forty years, still
maintains that he's writing from the margin, which means he has
brought a perspective to English letters which could not have come out
of England. The difference between Harris and myself is that whereas

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I belong in England where I have put down roots, I'm still being made
to feel like an alien. I also have a language which appears to belong in
Brixton market or places like that. I come up against BBC English, the
Queen's English, or whatever language holds sway and power. In that
sense, my Caribbean language works like any regional dialect in
England, whether it is in Yorkshire, Liverpool, or Wales. This means
that I still feel a sense of being on the margin, and still have an
adversarial relationship with England. But the values have changed
slightly from those encountered by Harris, because I am now located
in England. Although I still have to fight a David and Goliath kind of
battle with an official or dominant opposition, my Goliath is no longer
remote and out of reach.

In the days of Harris and Selvon, it was essentially a colonial
relationship, and the British Goliath was way out of reach. First, one
had to make the long, sea journey to come to his land. Second, one was
always excluded, andfelt excluded while living there. But, as you say,
you have a legitimate claim to Goliath's home space, where the centre
ofpower exists. Your relationship does not carry quite the alienating,
obliterating force of colonial exclusion; it is one of several regional
sub-cultures in Britain which are excluded from the centre, but are
within striking distance of it.

I think that's right. British Subjects, my new book, is trying to consider
Britishness in terms of Salman Rushdie's idea of mongrelization, or
Stuart Hall's idea of hybridization. Homi Bhabha also mentions this
idea of multiplicity and plurality. These are the catch-phrases which
have to do with a contemporary situation that allows me to acknowl-
edge the particular cultural strain that I inhabit while belonging to a
larger culture. I now play a role in this larger British culture that is
dominated by small pockets of people who are in charge. In Scotland,
Tom Leonard and others still perceive themselves in a David and
Goliath relationship with an English metropolitan centre that is always
trying to keep itself pure against what it views as corrupting influences
in terms of the creole, Scottish dialects, and so on.

KYK #45

The English metropolitan centre took a similar view toward the poetry
of Robert Burns in the eighteenth century. More recently, Hugh
MacDiarmid is only one of many writers considered pejoratively as
being "fringe", or regional who waged war against this centre.

That metropolitan belief in its own purity and authority is still true
today. I feel I am now entering an arena of cultural and artistic debate
standing in a Caribbean comer from where I'm fighting. After all,
the Caribbean dialect that is being spoken in London will not be
heard in Kingston, Jamaica. Caribbean people in London sound
Jamaican because of the power, size, and strength of the overseas
Jamaican community compared to the Guyanese, Trinidadian, Barba-
dian, or St. Lucian. Young blacks are picking up this London Carib-
bean dialect from the record industry. It is a dialect that is a hybrid of
all the Caribbean dialects boiled down into one mixture that is served
up with a mainly Jamaican flavour. Caribbean people in London make
grammatical "errors" by introducing structures and features of their
Caribbean dialect, or language into their use of English. What they
speak is not a "nation language"; that is making too big a claim for it.
But it is having some impact on their comprehension of English, and
English grammar. It is an othemess of English that they are trying to
register. I don't think its bad English. But the metropolitan cultural
centre or establishment is trying to exclude this Caribbean, creole
othemess from what they consider to be correct or acceptable English.
So this is a battle of cultural recognition and linguistic validation in
which I am engaged.

The battle lines are clearly drawn in your two volumes ofpoetry. That
is why I asked earlier about the use of Guyanese linguistic and
culturalpractices in yourpoems without seeming to care whether they
might confound your British audience. There is no danger of Mama
Dot being pejoratively labelled exotic, as Selvon's The Lonely
Londoners was in 1956. Thirty years have made a difference.

I belong to a community of writers like many others, all overthe world,
who are fighting battles with similar centres and despotisms. But while

KYK #45

belonging to this global literary community, I am also trying to address
local problems in England. I am still passionately interested in the
Caribbean, and will continue to write about it and be intrigued by it,
partly because of my parents, and partly because of the experience I
had while I lived there. But my memories of the place are now
receding. When I go back there, my friends and relatives say "Hello
English", because of my views, and how I talk about the place. I have
to remind them that in England I am told "Hey, go back to the
Caribbean!". This is good ground for a writer because it produces
precisely the tension that will generate poems. I'm pleased about the
multiplicity and the multi-faceted nature of my experience. I actually
welcome all the complexity. It means there are lots of books to be
written, and I am glad about that.


This Interview took place on the llth April 1992, at York
University, Toronto.

KYK #45

/ Reviews


Indo-Caribbean Resistance
Frank Birbalsingh (Editor): TSAR;Toronto,1993.

This is the second collection of articles on Indians in the Caribbean
edited by Frank Birbalsingh, an Indo-Guyanese literary critic who
teaches at York University in Toronto. His previous collection, Inden-
ture and Exile comprising papers presented at York University, in July
1988, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Indian presence in the
Caribbean, is an impressive scholarly achievement. Indo -Caribbean
Resistance is somewhat more polemical: it comprises four speeches
and three academic papers; it is refreshingly provocative, and raises,
tantalisingly, a range of crucial issues on the Indo-Caribbean condi-

In his introduction to these seven pieces, Birbalsingh argues that
they are all, consciously or unconsciously, animated by a spirit of
resistance, which he contends, inheres in the Indo-Caribbean experi-
ence, during indentureship between 1838 and 1917, and afterwards.
He believes that this culture of resistance is rooted in 'marginalisa-
tion'- in 19th century India, in colonial Trinidad and Guyana, as well
as in what he sees as an 'Afrocentric' contemporary Caribbean,
'dominated by cultural assumptions that are creole or .... mainly
African derived' (p.xv).

The first contributor, Roy Neehall, argues that resistance is 'the
most valuable factor' that Indo-Caribbean people have made to the
Caribbean legacy. Neehall, an Indo-Trinidadian Christian minister,
observes that their retention of Hinduism and Islam, in an environment
seething with Christian proselytisers, constituted a potent form of
resistance. He sees their remorseless struggle to acquire land as a
manifestation of their will to resist the consuming power of the
plantation regimen (pp. 3, 5). He concludes that their contemporary

KYK #45

powerlessness, in Trinidad and Guyana (all these pieces were pre-
sented before Cheddi Jagan's election victory in Guyana in October
1992), has not diminished theircapacity to resist: their 'exclusion from
the corridors of formal political power' has reinforced their economic
role, as food producers providing sustenance to all Caribbean peoples
(p. 10).

The theme of resistance also underpins Basdeo Mangru's schol-
arly piece, 'Tadjah in British Guiana'. This originally Shi'ite Muslim
festival was celebrated in Trinidad and British Guiana not only by
Muslims, but, inexplicably, by Hindus, and even by some Blacks.
Tadjah was characterized by music, dancing, fencing, ganja-smoking,
serious rum-drinking, etc.-very un-Islamic accretions, indeed. Mangru
does not explain why this Shi'ite Muslim festival became so popular
when most of the Muslim Indians in the Caribbean were Sunnis; nor
does he account for the widespread participation of Hindus, and
apparently, many blacks. However, he does explain why the plantoc-
racy encouraged the celebration of Tadjah. He believes that this
riotously carnivalesque, somewhat anarchic, festival, with its evi-
dently demanding physical exertions, helped to release pent-up, poten-
tially volatile emotions; mitigating the boring plantation routine, while
feeding an identity with the Caribbean environment. It had a 'therapeu-
tic value' (p. 23). It is noteworthy that white planters were expected to
dismount their mules, and invariably did, as they approached a Tadjah
procession a small, but richly evocative concession, for Indian
workers (pp. 23-24).

Although Tadjah is represented as a uniquely multi-racial instru-
ment of 'resistance' in colonial society, no explanation is given for its
disappearance. Growing up in rural British Guiana in the 1950s-1960s,
I was unaware of it; and I suspect that my Muslim compatriots would
have been repelled by most features of Guyanese Tadjah; but its
peculiar evolution and appeal, coupled with its strange death, deserve
better scrutiny.

David Dabydeen also advances the case for a tradition of resistance
among Indo-Caribbean people. Reverence for the land, commitment

KYK #45

to family, thrift, industry, cultural resilience, resistance to plantation
oppression, and the pursuit of Western education, established a tradi-
tion of effort and achievement, and a sustaining vision (pp. 27-32).

Probably the most provocative, but infinitely most challenging,
piece is by Ramabai Espinet, an Indo-Trinidadian scholar. She dares
to question the entrenched, comforting Indian male notion of the
comfortable, contented Indo-Caribbean woman: loyal wife, devoted
mother a virtually mythical, self-abnegating Sita, the classical
quintessence of Indian motherhood. She bemoans the 'invisibility' of
Indo-Caribbean women, which she partially attributes to their paucity
in the public spheres of writers, artists, politicians, performers etc..
Even those who are teachers, nurses, civil servants, etc., invariably
retire to 'the seclusion of the patriarchal culture' (p. 42).

Espinet identifies 'a single germinating centre' for this stultifying
Indian patriarchy: 'the ownership of woman and her reproductive
capacity, the only means whereby the powerful male can perpetuate
himself (p. 43). The woman's 'invisibility' is exacerbated by the fact
that Indians in the Caribbean are 'a marginalised racial group'. This
insecurity, she seems to suggest, tends to reinforce the patriarchial
fences, designed to corral the intellect and sexuality of Indo-Caribbean
women. Espinet observes that this has developed in spite of a history
of woman's resistance. She notes that many indentured Indian women
were rebels, women of enviable physical and mental strength and
independence of spirit, who migrated as individuals or with their
children, unaccompanied by husbands or male kin. This, she argues,
represented a solid, conscious resolution to break the shackles of a
rigid, stultifying patriarchy in village India.

Espinet proceeds to scrutinise the fate of Indo-Caribbean woman-
hood in Trinidadian calypsoes, composed almost exclusively by male
Afro-Trinidadians. The Indian woman is again corralled, now by a
beguiling sexual imagery which eclipses any other dimension of her
being. From at least the 1930s, by a skilful, often wickedly funny,
manipulation of Indian folk images, often drawn, significantly, from
Indian cooking, Black calypsonians are able to imaginatively savour

KYK #45

the alluring, forbidden fruit of Indo-Caribbean womanhood. These
sexist images also imprison, denying identity, capacity for self-
expression, and independence of action. However, Espinet does see
one redeeming feature: the calypso itself is being impregnated with
Indian musical temper and rhythm the 'chutney soca'; and at least one
Indo-Trinidadian is asserting her 'right to sing instead of being sung
about' (p. 54).

Espinet's article raises a question of fundamental importance to
Black-Indian relations in the Caribbean; but it does not attempt a
critical historical analysis. Some years ago, a male Indo-Trinidadian
friend, a writer, on seeing an Indian girl and a black boy in warm
embrace, instantly remarked: 'Boy, the future of our race is in the
womb of the woman, yes! This may not be a minority view among
Indo-Caribbean peoples. I detect in my friend's remark a deep-seated
fear of sexual 'pollution' by Blacks, exacerbated by the perceived
political power of Blacks. In an environment where Indians have
retained many caste-like, Brahmanic notions of race, colour, and
beauty, darkness and identifiable Negroid physical features invariably
call up negative responses. This is a Himalayan hurdle to race relations
in the Caribbean; yet this question never receives intellectual scrutiny.
Racism is not a monopoly of Europeans.

The independence of many women workers under Indentureship,
their paucity and a tendency, initially, to be more assertive, financially
and sexually, and the frequently demonstrated tendency of Whites on
the plantation to seduce Indian women, probably hastened the closing
of ranks among Indian men in the Caribbean. The tentative, fledgling
freedom of many Indian women on the estates was soon being
circumscribed; the patriarchal fences were being put up. This process
was greatly assisted by the rapidly eroding disparity in the woman -
man ratio, among Indians, towards the end of the 19th century. And a
caste-like fear of 'pollution' by Blacks accelerated the consolidation
of Indo-Caribbean patriarchy.

In this context, one can comprehend why so many Black
calypsonians continue to be seduced by the sexual challenge of the

KYK #45

Indo-Caribbean woman of the imagination, the proverbial forbidden
fruit. Playing what they feel the Indian man sees as Black trump,
phallic superiority, they poke fun at the over-protective, mean, Indian
patriarch of supposed limited sexual means: 'You [a Black man]
handling yuh rolling pin much better than Samlal [an Indian]' (quoted
on p.52).

This is too difficult a subject for scholars to address; it is seen as
a potential minefield. Yet it is a nightmare of bigoted associations,
stubborn prejudices; and it continues, silently but perniciously, to
gnaw away at race relations in Trinidad and Guyana.

In the final piece, Victor Ramraj calls for the end to Indian
'marginalisation' in Caribbean Studies. He argues that to reserve this,
there must be 'unrelenting attempts to claim a central position in
Caribbean seminal texts' (p. 76), by the pursuit of 'on-going' extensive
research and scholarship' on Indo-Caribbean topics (p. 73). These
should not be 'disparate ethnic studies', but should be integral to the
central focus of the Caribbean experience.

Birbalsingh, in his introductory essay, attributes this marginalisa-
tion to a post-war Afrocentricity which has been encouraged by
Europe and America- a belated atonement for their historical oppres-
sion of Blacks in the New World. He adds that this Afrocentricity
contributed significantly to the machinations which led to the subvert-
ing of the foremost Indo-Caribbean leader, Cheddi Jagan, and the
elevation of Forbes Burnham, in Guyana. He does not find Jagan's
Marxism a 'convincing' reason to account for his rejection by British,
American, and Caribbean leaders.

Afrocentric perceptions might have influenced the Anglophone
Caribbean's eloquent silence on the enormities of a perceived dictato-
rial, Black minority regime in Guyana until October 1992. But it is this
reviewer's contention that Cheddi Jagan's unconditional eulogising of
Moscow's brand of communism, over a period of over 30 years,
contributed more than any other factor to the 'marginalisation' of
Indians in Guyana. Burnham's nebulous, eclectic, radical (Marxist?)

KYK #45

pronouncements seemed moderate against Jagan's irrepressible, pro-
Moscow dogmas. Inthe context of the Cold War, he, not Burnham, was
deemed the enemy of the West. Jagan's election last year came with
the fall of communism, and his belated, new-found moderation.

Indo-Caribbean people have a distinguished record of effort and
achievement. They have every right to be at the centre of Caribbean
affairs. They have earned it. Butthey must also research, write, and buy
the books which focus on and give scholarly and imaginative scrutiny
to, their experience. A solid body of work, relatively comparable to the
literature on Afro-Caribbean people, is indispensable. Moreover, in
free, democratic Guyana, Indians must ensure that Afro-Guyanese do
not become marginalised; that elections remain free and fair, and that
in a society with an Indian majority, they are prepared to make
sacrifices, work assiduously and be seen to do so, to ensure that the
ethnic insecurity of Blacks is lessened. As Ramesh Maharaj pleads in
this collection: '.... we must dismantle the structures of oppression and
reach out for true democracy based on a non-racial and just society in
which colour, creed, and race shall form no point of reference. Let us
liberate our society from the cancer of racism and racial divisions'
(p. 40).

This is a massive task; and Indo-Caribbean Resistance challenges
all to begin to shape a freer, humane, non-racial, non sexist Caribbean
environment. This sounds platitudinous. But it is crucial for Caribbean
scholars and writers, whatever their ethnic origin, to begin to write
personally on the race issue, to dare to piece together the archaeology
of their individual prejudices. Intellectuals must begin this process of
slowly, agonisingly, reconstructing how racist perceptions have been
shaped and lodged in their own lives. It will demand considerable
courage; but it is the only way to begin to address the question of race.
This fundamental self-exposure at the highest level of thought is
essential to ensure that the issue of ethnic insecurity becomes the
principle focus of government in Guyana and Trinidad. History and
time are not on our side: African-Indian intransigence could destroy

KYK #45


The Zea Mexican Diary 7 September 1926 -7 September 1986
Kamau Brathwaite (Foreword: Sandra Pouchet Paquet)
University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

'takes one look at this irie dahta of Guyana then visiting Barbados
April 1960 and married her by May.' Kamau then L. Edward -
Brathwaite was on leave from Ghana, and Doris Monica Welcome was
returning home to Guyana from Britain, hertraining in Home Econom-
ics complete. Days after their first meeting at a party in Bridgetown he
followed her to Trinidad, then to Guyana. After their wedding, he took
her back to his home and family in Barbados, when 'everyone... comes
to me as if in shock and "yes, yes, yes.... She is the one".' Their miracle
of meeting, of recognition, resulted in a partnership of extraordinary
richness and creativity. They worked together in Ghana, St. Lucia,
Jamaica, London at individual projects and joint enterprises. And
then, in May 1986, when they were both nearing 60, when new
pathways of work were opening, their home at Irish Town becoming
more and more of a haven Kamau Brathwaite was told that Doris had
advanced, inoperable cancer. She died six months later, on her 60th

The Zea Mexican Diary 7 September 1926 7 September 1986
records the poet's experience of living through these six months, and
beyond: in extracts from the diary he kept at the time; in letters and
extracts from letters written immediately after his wife's death to '
Zea Mexican', his name for Doris in honour of her part-American
ancestry (Rights of Passage, 1967, is dedicated to 'Mex' and Jah
Music, 1986, to 'Mexican, my wife' ); from Ayama, the poet's alter
ego; to his sister, Mary Morgan; in an epigraph written by Brathwaite
before his wife's thanksgiving service; and a short epilogue, The

KYK #45

At one level, the experience recorded is universal the loss of a
loved one, a beloved partner. Brathwaite tells fully and honestly his
human response to impending loss: the swings between irrational hope
and bleak reality; the agony of not knowing whether a refusal to accept
the medical facts, a strong enough belief in a miracle, may prevent his
wife's death, or whether this stands in the way of death, hampering
theirpreparation for it; ofhow, without meaning to, he blurted out what
the doctor had told him; the endless question of' why why why why
why why.'He tells of his responses to the moment of loss: the
realisation, as the hearse moved away, of nothing nothing nothing
nothing I cd do cd do ever do w/her for her for her for her for her;' the
concern to know, 'And you, my love? Can/you see me? Hear me?/ Are
you close by? Ang/ry? ... In/different? Different/The/ same? Chang-
ing? And if/so how? Do I affect you?/ Do you affect me? Are /you
okay?' ; disbelief that the cremated ashes are indeed her whom he

At another level, the experience is the particular one of a poet
losing his wife. Brathwaite quotes from AJ Seymour's letter of
condolence, saying that it was he 'who best, as poet to poet, spoke to
me about the meaning of loss of the poet's wife and the threat/this loss
is to the poetry -my now widowered images!' Through memories and
tributes, Brathwaite evokes his wife's central role in his life of poetry.
He describes a tape he made in Ghana of' her Xtraordinary reading of
Charity (1 Corinthians 13) and Lorca's Death of a Bullfighter which,
interwoven with Miles Davis was 'as if she, somehow, had created
them all into a single breathing'; recalls how at Runaway Bay in
Jamaica she 'read sheet by sheet by sheet the miracle of Rights of
Passage' ; and at home in Irish Town 'incessant stalks & arguments
over a/poem's meaning(s)'; records his assumption that he would die
first and so 'giving her my manuscripts & asking her to keep the
various "versions" and dinning into her how she wd have to speak/
speak up for me/the work when I was gone.' Doris was, he acknowl-
edges, 'my wife/the perfect poet's wife I mean the perfect wife of/
for the poet. She made it possible'. With her death, 'what I fear /fear
for is not the future me/but future of the poems.'

KYK #45

At yet another level the poem reveals the specific features of
Kamau Brathwaite's loss of his wife Doris in the cultural context of
Jamaica. Kamau's lovingly observant, roundedly recognisable por-
trait of Doris is constructed from his own tributes: 'her morality', 'her
generosity', 'her courage'; from his vivid character-revealing memo-
ries: the motorbike she rode in London's rush-hour traffic, the compu-
ter which she mastered 'long before the current craze'. The portrait
comes alive, painfully, through incidents and conversations during her
illness: how she wanted to drive a neighbour's badly-burnt child to
Casualty, weak as she was, to enable Kamau to continue his work; her
last murmured worries files, Savacou, Michael, did we eat etc etc
etc'; how 'she said she was sorry for the inconvenience'. The portrait
is lit from another angle by the letters of condolence received by
Kamau, in which 'Every/one speaks of yr ra/diance', and 'where the
growing chorus is that "Doris was gold Do/ris is gold". 'Kamau
Brathwaite's portrait of marriage to Doris is as revealing of him as of
her: her generosity towards him, how safe he felt with her, how it was
she who handled 'all the hazards of all the foreign travel' and 'dealt w/
people...from marketwomen to workmen to editors, professorss'

Kamau's loss of Doris seemed to strip him of all that she enabled
and protected. He writes with devastating frankness of the self that he
is compelled to face. Conscious of having hurt her deeply many times
through infidelities, through absences, he is now tormented by fear
that the hurt led to the cancer, and by guilt that he was not there with
her at the end. His fears and anxieties are exacerbated by accusations
of so-called friends that Doris had spoilthim, given in to him too much,
that w / she Dead i am now Nothing '.

There is no comfort anywhere, from anyone or anything, until
much later. Miss Mac, the 'practical nurse', and Jean, the maid, insist
on obeah practices in the Brathwaites' home after Doris's death, but
to Kamau they seem to invite an alien presence. The Jamaican folk
culture which he promoted and embraced as poet, teacher and re-
searcher, now seems to harm not help him. He looks in vain for
Caribbean rituals and customs for the bereaved, especially for widow-

KYK #45

ers. Losing his wife causes him indeed to assert that Caribbean
'culture' has 'so marginalized our males (orhave they so/marginalized
them/ selves) that we don't even know how to/comfort them'. Not
until his own ritual with her ashes, and Mass Reid's with the tulip tree,
is there any hint of vision.

The Zea Mexican Diary is the work of historian, dramatist and,
supremely, poet. Each detail of the six-month ordeal is recorded with
concision and simplicity. Dramatic dialogue abounds, each persona
speaking in an appropriate language register, the action is punctuated
by flashes to past and future time. All its words are poetry. Here are
statements of closely observed detail, in which each word is perfectly
placed: 'Miss Mac was there, walking about in the sitting /sinking
room & Aunt May was lying on the settee as if sleeping';'and when I
was going downstairs to get the second vessel, I put some of the ashes
on my tongue & swallowed her'. The apparently factual often brims
with metaphor, as when Brathwaite refers to the concurrent Chemobyl
nuclear disaster, the heavy Jamaican flood rains, and relates them to
the spread of cancerous cells. At key moments, the words are winged.
After the doctor has told him of Doris's illness, 'it was as if a clock was
ticking silence in the moon'; after being told, 'She's gone':

& I went inside & saw her all my life
all all my love & hopes & dreams & past & future
still quiet on that bed & gone in the quiet flicker-
ing light of Mary's candle & there was no sound
in all the world that Sunday midnight which
went on & on forever

after Mass Reid has planted the Tulip Press and spoken to God about Mrs
suddenly as an end & signal he plucked the whole green stem w/his fingers
& it vibrated there in the sunlight like music like the string of life it
had become

KYK #45

The presentation of words on page is particular and personal to
Brathwaite, what he calls his 'SycoraXian "video"...' (the unconven-
tional stylemetre or manner in which I have presented this Diary)
'... the "video style" I now use for my work.' His own wordprocessed
typescript arrangement of words on page, choice of typeface and
font, choice of weight of ink is reproduced on the printed pages of
the book. So lines of text are at times in full-length width, justified (i.e
an even righthand margin); at times centred and with uneven margins.
Words are printed in varying weights of inking from pale, draft
quality, to the dark of bold type. Typefaces and fonts range from a
simple, serifed face for diary extracts to a very small font of the same
face forhis 'Letterto Zea Mexican'. 'The Awakening' uses a large and
open typeface. Typographic ornaments are placed at strategic points
within the text- a small black square, familiar as indication that a piece
of writing is complete appears after Doris's death; a star-stem after
the planting of the tree, a large Heartease flower-star after the final
section. 'Video style' because a visual presentation of words, yes. But
for me the effects of such presentation is continual modification of the
sound of the words. It sings in the same way that a musical score, read
silently, can convey not just the notes of music, but the dynamics, the
style, the phrasing, and the timbre and character of different instru-
ments. The words of The Zea Mexican Diary thus presented become
a performance; they sing on every page narrative as a recitative,
expressed emotion as a lyrical aria, dialogue as a duet, spaces as silent
pauses. The varied typefaces and fonts orchestrate the words, signify-
ing here a trombone, there a flute. Brathwaite has been a pioneer of
performance poetry. His video style seems now to present perform-
ance on the page, an alternative to a taped reading. He uses, indeed,
audiotape images to describe composition: 'the poem miXing from a
tape... the dub dub dub from one's own self.'

Brathwaite reprints the words of' Things Went Forward' by Ken
Boothe, Jamaican 'pop' singer, at the start, acknowledging it as 'an
extremely poignant song of loss and mourning that won't let me go'.
Brathwaite in turn has created, in The Zea Mexican Diary another

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