Behold this intimacy.
“Boa Gravida”, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize, is one of the best kinds of poems, in that it does not feel like it belongs to you. It is not written for you, either for your sympathy or your rage, for your adulation or your bitterness. You might call it a domestic tableaux, and not be wrong. You might also call it a creation myth that is itself charged with the equal labours of mythos and of making: to give birth, in any sense, means that something must unhinge: hip or jaw, depending on the origin. In “Boa Gravida”, we are opened at both sites. The poem’s knowing of us is both corporeal and psychic: we can but behold ourselves in its wilding wake.
The actioning language of the poem prompts both tenderness and feral violence. Boodoo-Fortuné tells us of writhing and cradling, of aching and rising. Waiting and whispering confronts shifting and shuddering. The poem peals with anticipatory softness, of cradling a new-made skull in the ‘broad leaf’ of a parent’s hand. It rings, too, with the forewarning of pain: of the sundering of flesh necessary to vouchsafe a son’s arrival. Great risk coils serpentine and certain around the seedling heart of this safe world, of parents and progeny to come, progeny slow-germinating in the belly.
The poet builds her house on risk, promising no surety but the flint-eyed steadiness of an animal intelligence. We begin the poem with ‘minnow-soft’ love: an evolution of species and survivor’s instinct is love’s last incarnation in “Boa Gravida”: “the great mother boa / turning the soft egg of the world”. See here, this intimacy of spiralling resilience, cultivating a shelter for slowly growing bones. Offer prayer, before you enter such a fearsome and majestic home.
This is the first installment of Puncheon and Vetiver, a Caribbean Poetry Codex created to address vacancies of attention, focus and close reading for/of work written by living Caribbean poets, resident in the region and diaspora. During April, which is recognized as ‘National’ Poetry Month, each installment will dialogue with a single Caribbean poem, available to read online. NaPoWriMo encourages the writing of a poem for each day of April. In answering, parallel discourse, Puncheon and Vetiver seeks to honour the verse we Caribbean people make, to herald its visibility, to read our poems, and read them, and say ‘more’.