You can live your entire life on an island, and never know the length and breadth of it. This is true, Andre Bagoo’s “La Brea” tells us, for many of the people in Trinidad who know the Pitch Lake, but have never seen it. Estimated to hold ten million tons of natural asphalt, the lake is reported to be two hundred and fifty feet deep, spanning a surface area of one hundred acres. Yet what do these figures mean, to the everyday curiosity of Trinidadians? How do you navigate the borders, the depths, of this lake you can’t swim, without ever having been?
La Brea, the home of the Pitch Lake, is like any other place on the map in T&T: if held under the microscope of scrutiny, it can become a contradiction in fascinating terms. Consider that the roads in La Brea are said to be terrible, though the primary use of asphalt is in road construction. Why, if you worried at that enough, you’d have the beginnings of a dark fairytale. This is what I love best about Bagoo’s poems: a seeming-innocuous thing has ridges, edges, subduction zones, the work of millennia of friction. “La Brea” gets under you, tectonically. It captures what happens in a place like Trinidad, in a place that is, precisely, Trinidad:
“Here, when it rains,
the difference between east and west, north
and south, between past and present, blurs, lost
objects once swallowed whole come
We arrive here through no seeming contrivance of language: Bagoo’s diction is smooth, simple, unfettered as freeflowing petroleum. We arrive to the surface of the lake, without ever having made the trip physically. We are warned that it might consume us, if we wade in, if we dare past the borders of what we can trust.
This is the fifteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.