Self-Portrait in the Neotropics
Eleven of the strange years of my life.
Months on end I lived on tapioca,
I lived on mud and permanganate broth,
and river water red as rum,
bivouacked with rainflies
and fire ants and sundry native guides.
The parrots already knew some French.
Nous sommes les seuls français ici.
Call it sunstroke, le coup de bambou.
I came all this way with half a plan,
an extra handkerchief, and Humboldt (abridged).
Here I lack only the things I do not have.
Eleven years of untimely weather,
earthquakes and fireflies and mud.
The colonel writes his complaints to the general.
The general writes his complaints to the emperor.
The emperor writes to Jesus Christ,
who damns us all.
Nous sommes les seuls français left in the world.
I came all this bloody way
to sit in a cheap café with bandaged hands.
I translate detective novels, Dr. Janvier.
It keeps me in dinero, out of trouble.
I miss only the friends I do not have.
[From The Strange Years of My Life,
a sequence first published at Almost Island,
which you can read at: almostisland.com (see winter 2011/poetry)]
. . .
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas Laughlin is the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books and the arts and travel magazine Caribbean Beat; programme director of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, an annual literary festival based in Trinidad and Tobago; and co-director of the contemporary art centre Alice Yard.
You are not my mother so you hold
my hand tighter than you should.
The wind blows my Indian feather,
And throws red dust into my face.
This is supposed to be fun, but when
We reach the Savannah stage I am terrified.
Your son, my half brother, is cold
He does not chip to the dollar wine.
This Kiddies’ Carnival experiment
Has gone awry. I’ve lost my axe.
You say you have to leave me here
It is five o’clock and Panorama is tonight.
You are going and my father is going
But my mother is staying home and
I am staying home to wash all this
Glitter and Vaseline off my small body.
But somewhere near that Savannah stage
The crowds crush my black cardboard axe.
Andre Bagoo is a journalist and poet
from Trinidad, West.Indies.
He was born in 1983.
The poem above gives us Trinidad Carnival
through a child’s eyes, and will be found in
Bagoo’s collection of poems, “Trick Vessels”,
to be published by Shearsman in March 2012.
Savannah: Queen’s Park Savannah, huge park in Port-of-Spain;
central festivities site for Carnival – Parade of Bands,
Crowning of Calypso Monarchs, etc.
chip – to step or shuffle in time to the music
dollar wine – a reference to the 1991 calypso hit by Colin Lucas,
Panorama: Carnival competition for Best
Pan Orchestra (i.e. Steel Band)