Murder. Flotilla. Chattering. Congress.
Multifarious are the names we give to groups of birds. In Fawzia Muradali Kane’s “Kaieteur Falls”, shortlisted for the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize, the birds are swifts. You might be forgiven for addressing them as a fall, given where they live, in a cave behind a waterfall. The poem observes them as they congregate, make unison of form and purpose in the air, “coalesce and split into waves, / unroll as giant arabesques that curve against / the screen of the sky.” Birds can do what we, for all our aeronautical might, never can. We haven’t got the gift of pitting our undefended bodies into the sky to become constellations or predators. We must always, far sooner than birds, contend with our gravity.
Kane’s poem is a hemmed expression of an absence of rule. The structure of the poem, tidy in two-line verses, holds itself taut and wingspan-ready, to allow a full unravelling — or if you will, a perch from which to soar. The best nature writing I’ve read so far keeps time with the essential truth of human unworthiness. We squat so inelegantly, so churlishly, on the back of a planet we’re also stifling, like a carcinogenic urchin needling its host. The human race does such a poor job of paying its bill to the earth. That, the poem reminds us, is where birds and the world’s largest single drop waterfall have us licked.
“There is nothing else to bear / while that moisture clings to our skin.” When you are taken to Kaieteur, you imagine yourself, suspended, looking down. The poet amplifies your vision, cranes you, settles you under the spray and above the vast firmament, giving you for a moment the wild impossibility of true flight. Soar upward, fall deep, winging.
This is the seventeenth 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’.