What waits for us, when we clear customs?
Colin Robinson’s “Calabash” is a poem that barely spans a page, but contains in its brief, mysterious body the fluid magic of lives, and bodies, intersecting. The poem’s narrator, lamenting his loss of a main piece of luggage, is shown a kindness by the Tourist Board representative of Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport. The poet opens the swinging double doors of our associations of Caribbean tourism, so often a colourful, overwhelming spectacle, and suggests we pay attention to the smaller moments: hands touching over the same valise at Baggage Claim; a ticket stub falling to the floor; a litany of curses when a seat assignment goes terribly wrong; subpar cups of coffee fortified with granulated Demerara sugar.
How we move through the world often undergoes a shift, when we enter and exit airports. We become our more efficient selves, or our more panicked, jittery selves, or else we stifle the edges of our aeronautical necessity with Ambien or miniature vodka. “Calabash” suggests the surprise of ease, on the other side, hints at a gentle landing when you least expect it, a comfort after the giddying turbulence.
The poet achieves this through a combination of short, taut lines, and sinuous, winding ones: witness the latter, where the narrator tells us, “I noticed the beauty all over the momentary closeness of him / lamented packing-all-my-clothes-in-the-one-lost-bag-and-nothing-but-books / in the one that had come with me / on the flight”. Of winks and easeful suggestion are corridors of this poem composed: the dance of understanding between traveller and welcomer makes room for anticipation, for appreciation, for the dances we do with other humans without ever filling in a card — or waiting for a stamp of approval. Open your heart’s itinerary, and check it for soft spaces.
This is the twenty-fifth 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’.