Poems by Cynthia James

February 2012


. . . and if you’re lucky you’ll have time
to give her treasures you’d really like to keep,
candid shots you didn’t have time to stick,
stuffed in the crevice of an old album:
grandmother louped—at whose wedding?
pixelated father—flying roof-high, dancing the cocoa,
dingy-white sail-shirt, sole umbra in candescent sky;
except . . . what if you’re not lucky?

and she arrives to find you toying with your rat-pack,
walks over for the spot Alzheimer’s check:
Stop watching bony touch, braille-ing faces . . .
“Who’s that?” she says—
you swallow, still, to suppress the croak,
lest whisper uncontrolled, segue into
“Mum, you must be tired, you need to close up.”
Old fish head, grey rim around your iris widening,

you who once sucked fish eye lenses, biting down
white archived print, flattening celluloid images—
you need her help to extend this raw slide
view of still live images, “Sable Venus,” “Flagellation
of a female Samboe slave,” loin-clothed, gift-wrapped
at wrist, flayed flailing—Jesus! crucifix-ed,
beautified, beatified, mummy-fied in plaster of Paris
exhibits all, all these too captured silent.


Charcoal Monochrome

July first, 10 pm, rumblings, flashes, fireworks:
You’d think that after three years the smell of maple wood
and honey smoke would lift the downward spiral

not provoke the cock-set cough of burning black sage bush,
coalpot centred in the closed bedroom to smoke the mosquitoes out first;
not evoke West Indian Reader nights,

playing picture or no picture on a perwinkled door stoop,
page opening by chance on Hugh Cameron’s A Lonely Life
a wizened woman cradling scant firewood,

panier bare, selvedge sere,
explosion of her blood-red shawl, sole highlight
against a pink pigeon-breasted crepuscule;

not invoke in the gloaming, yawning kitchen window propped
half-staff, pearly prism-ed light transmuting inner lepais thatch
from Scot to classic Boscoe Holder still life painting:

jug-eared coalpot, mounded with blunt quartz of coal;
corkscrew of gazette paper; fuzz of ash nickeling cleaver;
pointy shards of tinder; curled peelings of cassava;

pewter pitcher, horned spout; silver halo, condensed milk tin-cup;
speckled mortar, granite pestle protruding like a dislocated thumb;
rugged torchon, grits of sand cresting stilt-legged washstand;

villi feathering sooty corners, clambering spidery V-greased gutters;
and soft contoured mid-height above, a double-breasted dove-
grey form, fingers pouched at mouth smudged with itty-bitty edge of coal

You’d think by now I’dve dipped my hand and done the necessary genuflection,
lightened those gilt greys with confession and a good act of contrition;
(Will you think of me, and love me / As you did once long ago)

Perhaps next year, my fourth year, when palm shells race up the sky,
to rocket trunks with bursts of coconuts, my chants will be as loud,
thanks to transposing old anthems with new chromatic metronomes


The Beach
(for Lennox Brown)

Yet another Kew Gardens behind this groyne of beach
a queen, a king, a union, further down, a Kensington—
salvages, this anomie for replicas, selections of empires,
Stonehenges, Tajmahals, recurrent Chinatowns.

The fronting lake grins and bears accumulating silt,
suppurating, giving grudgingly to those who
on a dying evening come to pace this boardwalk,
then go inland to lay down shield and sword,

facing the convergence of millennial waters from all the cardinals,
even the brutal baptisms of line-crossings way down south; who
come not to judge the grey man kissing the green woman (not his wife);
nor Mary, hair let down, bra loose, bridge in hand, resting her gums,

nor sniff the trailing whiff accusing the teenagers; nor notice
the badges in black-short pants with walkie-talkies cycling by.
But leaving Leuty and the dog run, pass the gaping bandstand,
trail fingers over the commemorative plaque, wondering

who’s the dark child in the drinking fountain and where’s the Native;
smell the white hyacinth perfuming the round Gardener’s Cottage,
swallow the saliva accreting in the throat gland, conflicted,
awed at the power of salvages to unify yet nullify;

and super-glad to see you in the missed of this, walking briskly
round Queen’s Park on the cycle track, up near Kilarney
just before you take the Y on Maraval; and I hail you out,
Lennox! Come leh we go down Macqueripe and buss a lime!

and you jump in and we heading for a real salt-water bath;
going past the tall blue Guardian Spirit with the silver wand,
on this make-believe beach, boardwalk, in these Q-Gardens, Magnificent
Seven in the distance, we the only salvages in a different place and time.


Cynthia James is a Trinidadian, currently located in Toronto. She has three collections of poetry, two novels, and one collection of short fiction. She is published in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, World Literature Today, Callaloo, Sisters of Caliban: Contemporary Women Writers of the Caribbean, the  Massachusetts Review, the New Theater Review, Wasafiri, Jouvert: A Journal of Post-Colonial Studies, Caribbean Tales—Literature Alive, and the Caribbean Writer.