Walk vigilant in the garden.
Sonia Farmer‘s “A Letter from Paradise” doesn’t meddle with symbolic flora. It presents a white hibiscus, carmine-centred, in the palm of your hand, promising intoxication and ruin. Mind how you tread, the poem warns. What you think is most comely can yet be your unravelling. Farmer plants the poem’s cares with minute touches that persist in our hothouse imaginations, flowering for us a visual palate of spilled cream, “white fists opening to whiter palms, / to blood-red centers.” The absence of colour is still an undoing, still singes the narrator’s retina, summons a brilliant burning that, Lady Macbethian, does not out.
Petalled in the horticultural and the spiritual, “A Letter from Paradise” gives me what I yearn for in brief, tantalizing poetry: a tableau that is a seeming innocence, but chokes, thicketed with interpretation, with portents of ravage, baleful enchantments dripping from every vine. You can take the poem’s word for it: “The evening does not bring a closing. / No, we will know / what we have lost. Each corolla drops / to the evening ground.” Before you can bend to salvage the hibiscus, the poem shutters its windows.
So much of Farmer’s work is like this, corresponding to needlepoint, to embroidery, to those fine, domestic arts which are misrepresented as docile, biddable. Don’t you know a needle can puncture a viscous eye, break the webbing between the fingers of a cavalier hand? So it is with “A Letter from Paradise”. Look for the flower-stitches of meaning in the spaces the poem weaves: subtle, precious, not casually discerned. Soak in the tropic afternoon of high heat, greenhouse hibiscus bouquets pressed to your cheeks. Drink the spilling cream. Douse your palms with the centres of beckoning red, and wait for paradise to reveal herself, flowering.
This is the twenty-third 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’.