Sensitivity and Strength: poems of Delores Gauntlett
Posted: August 8, 2016 Filed under: Delores Gauntlett, English, English: Jamaican Patois
A Sense of Time .
I drive past my father’s grave
and past the place where I began.
That swing-bridge to my childhood games
is now a town to which I seldom return.
There the headstones wear familiar names,
and there I turned the page
at five to my first big word,
repeating it until it blurred.
. The church grew smaller in the rear
-view mirror; my face awash in the wind,
I approached the curves I knew by heart,
then drove the silent miles to Flat Bridge.
The sun going down behind the hill
hauled its net of shadow as it fell.
. . .
On Growing Tired of Her Complaints “
One pound of fretting can’t repay one ounce of debt.” (Jamaican proverb)
As far away as you are now from childhood
is the gap between ideas and reality,
the air tensed with what you took pleasure in,
doodling in complaints, not knowing what to do ––
not knowing what accidental turn you took,
that blew everything entirely out of whack
though the worst of the rain has come and gone.
Surrounded by whatever else you happened on,
numbed by repetition, eyes clenched,
you cannot catch the rhythm of the wind,
indecipherable; you move from room to room.
. I knew you when a day made a difference,
when you’d look out of the window and gaze
at anything: a bee, the dew drop from a leaf
in the spot by the still pond under the trees.
Now you linger by the bridge where what’s unlived
is not available, where even a mild occurrence
shapes a stronghold of might-have-been, of this and that;
and nothing I say today
will be any more convincing than the last.
Meantime the rest of the world unfurls, shading
the retreating back of history, and what happens, happens.
. . .
Love Changes Everything .
At the window where our two reflections
meet, pulled as to a magnet to the rhythm
of Zamfir’s panflute whistling its seduction
Love, love changes everything… Sometimes the body needs to set itself on fire,
to consume the dry leaves and twigs as if swept
by a magic wind to a new view of desire,
barefoot, heart racing from the outset,
flayed like an upheld palm in the rain.
Then work defers to moments that assume
good reason to be here and love, not live in vain,
gauging time like an echo in a vacant room.
We, once strangers on the eve of first sight,
blush through blue August, whispering goodnight.
. . .
Another Mystery of Love .
He loved her, but he used his love like a rope:
frayed from their tug-of-war of the heart,
stretched taut across his frightening temper
till he fell flat on his back to win.
Meanwhile she slipped away with something heartrending
caught in her eye,
diverting her attention by making bread,
kneading until the sun burned out,
slapping the dough with the heel of her hand
to revenge herself
against the familiar words which quailed her
into thinking everything she did was wrong.
Then he, looking as though it had never happened,
and she, never looking at another man,
stared out of the window, wondering at the bird
clinging to a swaying stalk in silence,
like a patient thought.
. . .
Love Letters .
At first it was your slick quips
that quickened me to sit down and take notice ––
when to my one-sentence reply you said
I reminded you of Lord Wavell,
the British general in World War II
who, the more adulation he received,
the more taciturn he became,
that brevity, brevity was his forte,
that his strength lay in silence.
. That was the hook that lifted my attention,
and when it seemed you guessed what I was wearing
the first intensity warmed the air to now.
You wound me a path along windswept beaches
to a place unmarked on any map
where we resumed our secret walk with words
guardedly wrapped around ourselves,
though between each line the meaning was implied.
. And when I wrote to you my reason
why I couldn’t meet you face to face, I lied.
I wanted instead to lean into your hands
away from the tangibles of daily life,
wearing the countenance that each word bears
where nothing is well founded; yet
when you invited me to sit down, and I did,
more and less at the same time. . . .
Writing a Poem in Metre .
Takes rain, the racket
in a madman’s head
and strains it
into sonata. (Wayne Brown: ‘Critic’)
Nothing on the page made sense.
I was on the brink of giving up
fretting in pentameter,
feeling like a fish pulled from the sea
into the fierce sunlight,
when your no-fooling-around approach
and a direct heart sent me to work.
That each line should slip under the skin,
as in the blood, fleshed out from the nuance
of sound on sound, as in the beat of a heart!
I pushed off into the swell,
swimming across the bay of iambics:
three, four, five beats underwater,
pulling, pulling against the tension,
taking a turn on my back,
watching the water scatter from my hands,
splash, splash, each slow spondee stretching my thought beyond recollection.
. Call it the music in the traffic-hiss,
entertaining an early morning thought,
or the climb uphill to the first clearing
to move around in when a foot doesn’t fit.
To one who asks
“What’s the good of all that?”
I can only speak for me,
that it discovers what I have to say,
takes my hand and leads me down a lane
from which I can take my time returning.
. . .
That Sunday Morning .
She was not begging for forgiveness when she knelt
facing the wall, her head flung back
as if preparing to hold a flashlight to the eyes of Jesus.
Full of argument, raw with energy,
something shouting in her breast flashed clear again
to the August afternoon when the death winds came
to the broken sidewalk that narrows to a lane,
when, after the bullet wrapped itself in silence,
it took the colour from the photo in her purse.
. She looked in vain for answers
to what nags her sleep, night after night,
remembering the hour when the sun went down burning
over the yard of scratching chickens, digging
for the words that would tell her all would be well
while the clock ticked to the wrong time.
Talking to Him as if to a next door neighbour
she stood, knowing her anger was not a bluff,
and, with the world still coming to an end,
danced her way up to a victory hallelujah!––
a pitch this poem cannot put into 20 lines.
. . .
A nuh di same day leaf drop in a water it rotten. (Jamaican proverb)
Years later, he walks beside the shadow
of the past, to the beat of the grim consequences
he brought upon himself in surprising ways.
In middle-age he might have been content,
had he foreseen that as time went by
his antics would lead to where love pulled away
to be as far from him as possible
when his expression betrayed no signs of change.
Blinded to the cause of his predicament,
he walks, with nothing open for discussion,
not knowing he’s been struck by his own hand.
. . .
Yuh cyan sow corn and expec’ fi reap peas. (Jamaican proverb)
Unable in the end to separate what’s done from what
should have been done, the truth
undid what you so earnestly embodied.
. There’s nothing for it:
your life requires a harder pardon.
Cry all you want,
. but for a miracle: your promises have gone
on a stray breeze up into a cloud,
. grey from overuse,
. a cloud from which the night fills in
the disquiet of the past,
and what was hidden is rising
. to the surface, like a dank mist after rain.
. . .
From a Cove in St. Ann .
From under the noonday shadow of a rock
I stare long and hard into the blue
sea, breaking one thought to ponder through
to the heart of a concern, taking stock
of a home where shocking news is the norm.
It’s hard to put a finger on the lessons
to be learned; as when a tense bow misses
a shifting target, each moment ends in doubt.
On a day like this, besieged between ‘forlorn’
and a place riddled with brutalities, I
distract myself with the waves rushing to shore,
and the blessings one must create to know the sea’s.
I lift my hope over the open water
with its flush of foam which alters in the sand,
filtering its sound to the hill as if to find
an echo far from the turbulent deep. Dusk
drops over the trees where some unknown soul
stumbled once, with one hand breaking his fall.
. . .
Chances Are .
Coming in from the streets that mock delight
I’m caught between two streams of thought:
old news, and the need to shift my mind to write.
A melting candle moves tobacco from the flat,
and, short of throwing both hands up in the air,
solutioned-out in a world where all’s been said.
I plan never to compare today
but do what I have to, pushing ahead,
fishing around these potential days
in a land spinning on the edge of nerves
where someone’s always leaving, and someone else is busy.
Rights are taken further away from those they serve.
Chances are the prime minister will not come to see
me or my friends. He’s busy. So are we.
. . .
The above poems are from the 2005 collection
The Watertank Revisited published by Peepal Tree Press, and are © Delores Gauntlett.
Delores Gauntlett was born in St. Ann, Jamaica, in 1949. Her first poetry collection, Freeing Her Hands to Clap, was published in 2001. She was recipient of the David Hough Literary Award from The Caribbean Writer in 1999, and poems by Gauntlett have won prizes in the annual literary-arts competitions of The Observer. . . . . .