Poems by Fred D'Aguiar

• December 2011

Underwater

Sky seems round every time she cries
Trees knit fingers and thumbs over the road
Providing complete cover from sky fruit
Straight road longer than sight

Girl in her keeps looking over shoulder
Woman tells her this only wastes time
Look how flat sky curves when you cry
Glance back for another on the road

Her bare feet pick up splinters she ignores
For now but must fish out with a needle later
This sky cradles the night and gestates the day
This road measures her years end to end

A woman ruled by a fifteen-year-old girl
A road wrapped by trees following sky

 

Complainer

In 1979 or ’80, Lynford French
played Moving Target as we cried,
“The revolution will not be televised.”
Yesterday, Gil Scott Heron died.

The man talked and made you nod
along in agreement, for what he just
said had just been born, and could
never be taken away, by the most

willful act of forgetting, on the part
of my generation. How can I stop
complaining, when all my heart
sees barefaced wrong, parade up

our street as right, surrounded
by the city’s might, while ordinary
folk struggle? This may come across
too raw for my clipped dictionary,

as I try to sound like him, with
the same race-wound, held open
to white light scrutiny, which
he held his whole life, for black men.

Yesterday, Gil Scott Heron died.

Called himself a blues maestro,
rejected “godfather of rap,”
as with all labels, he sent it back;
he could easily have sung calypso.

In which case we’d call him what
we liked, because it fitted best,
nothing to do with what he wanted,
for instance, Complainer, voices

things high society must address,
or face the music of poor choices;
his high-stakes chant of redress.

Yesterday, Gil Scott Heron died.

 

In Memoriam

George in Georgetown, Guyana,
Aged ninety and no longer counting.
Out early mornings and early evenings,
Blocked off entire hours from
12 to 4 for rest in his air-conditioned
Pad, and who could blame him?
Noon bakes bitumen soft
As a cookie pulled from an oven.

Some say Guyanese wood yields
To the artist’s chisel twice:
First thing in the morning,
And last thing at night;
In between the two the blade
May break or the wood spoil
Any shape an artist tries to coax
From it no matter how gentle
The tap, tap, tap, for wine,
Gum, milk, for the next line.

George was born in Georgetown,
City made of wood whose famous,
Large, wooden Cathedral keeps
Cool all day, just as wood shields
Any shape, there for the asking,
In the language chisels speak,
But never in the middle of the day;
George knew this as the Guyanese way.

 

Fred D’Aguiar is the author of eleven books of poetry and fiction, which have been translated into a dozen languages, and a number of essays, one of which was included in Best American Essays 2000 (Houghton Mifflin). His play A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death  was produced at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1991, and published by Methuen, London, in 1995. His BBC-commissioned radio play Days and Nights in Bedlam was broadcast and webcast in October 2005. His most recent book, Continental Shelf (Carcanet, 2009), was a UK Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize 2009. Born in London in 1960 of Guyanese parents and brought up in Guyana, D’Aguiar currently teaches at Virginia Tech, where he is Gloria D. Smith Professor of English.