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Image: Apples are Red…, posted at Flickr by David Robert Bliwas under a Creative Commons License.

Let’s not pretend we’re not animals.

This isn’t a debasement, Tanya Shirley reminds us in “Matie Shall Not Conquer”. Beasts are capable of ingenuity, manipulation, sleight of hand and rapier wit, to get what they want, and to defend what they have. The wronged woman in this poem is orchestrating both. Her man has a matie, a mistress, a side piece, an Eve who might, given enough rope, entwine herself around the fella with the gift of multiple climaxes, stake him out and oust the current queen.

Enter magic.

Call it obeah, or call it a parlour trick, but you can’t call it passive. The energy of the poem crackles, whiplashes, curlicues tendrils of want, of mine, of beware. Three blue candles are brought out, three papers with the names of all involved parties, “three positive wishes / for your rival, all the time wishing the bitch well.”

To quote one of the most resonant poetic odes of this or any age, “Yuh tink me done? Yuh think me done?”

Tanya Shirley isn’t invoking the violent incredulity of Lady Shabba’s “Ram Ram”, so much as she is summoning what presages it. This, before I lose my cool over you. This, before you make me make a jail on your head. We believe her utterly, the wounded, but undaunted, woman being addressed in second-person, the “you” who gathers her items of conjure, protection and blessed badmind. The “you” could be any of us, rediscovering that we are wild, repurposing our steps to suit our better, bitter, jealous nature.

Watch your ass. Guard your cunt. This poem’s a primer in how to do both, and prevail. A blueprint of warrior rite, a dancehall galvanizing of ovarian fortitude, the poem cautions all maties, warning that if you enter the gayelle, expect spirit lash.

Read “Matie Shall Not Conquer” here.
Tanya Shirley’s most recent collection of poems, The Merchant of Feathers, was longlisted for the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Puncheon and VetiverThis is the fourteenth 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’.

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