Sensitivity and Strength: poems of Delores Gauntlett

Under a yellow Poui tree in Hope Gardens

Delores Gauntlett

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,

I understood 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.

. . .

The Reckoning

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.

. . .

In Limbo

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

like smoke

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.

. . . . .