As a young girl, “The Red Shoes” was the first fairytale to fill me with both delight and horror: it was one of my first lessons in the truth that something sublimely beautiful can dance you all the way to your own grave, or someone else’s.
When I read the poems of Vahni Capildeo, I often feel as though I’m dancing, even if my best ballet flats are welling with blood. The serpentine, carnivorous, raised-lynxhead attentions of Capildeo’s poetics keep me upright in fields of the too-common. They also remind me that in the common, there is always dancing. Take, for instance, “Investigation of Past Shoes”. A narrator tells us of their history in footwear: 1970s clogs with side buckle; gold and silver sandals racked up outside a temple, waiting for their mistresses’ feet; bleached-pristine Convent sneakers; “distressed silver ballet slippers … Cool as moonlight on / a tourist coastline.”
We arrive at the poem’s end to their bare, pearlescent-toenailed feet, yet in each cleated address, the poem offers us some bareness, some bone-deep exposure, like the stultifying whitewashery of Convent sneakers, of a ‘prestige’ education filled in with the patina of “Toxicity and intoxication: / with good intentions, getting high on paste.” What I love about this poem, and so many of Capildeo’s poems, is that it doesn’t pre-announce its poetic intentions. We call it poem, but it could, with a smattering of imagination, with a stretching of leeway, be called ‘anti-advice brochure’; ‘ironic and morbidly hilarious walking tour guide’; ‘instructions on how to achieve the perfect pedicure through trial, history and error’.
Walk with this poem and maybe expect to get lost. Or maybe find yourself going dancing, to the alive and insomniac cadences Capildeo offers: toss the ex-husband’s torture flats. Toss the ex-husband, too. Glide home barefoot.
This is the tenth 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’.