“La Brea” – Andre Bagoo

Image: Pitch Lake Trinidad and Tobago 35 cents Elizabeth II, posted at Flickr by Mark Morgan under a Creative Commons License.

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
out again”

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.

Read “La Brea” here.
Andre Bagoo’s third collection of poems, Pitch Lake, was published in 2017 by Peepal Tree Press.

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.

“The Night Grew Dark Around Us” – Andre Bagoo

Image: Hibiscus, posted at Flickr by Brian Evans under a Creative Commons License.

If only by incanting, we might stay longer here.

Where is here? When it comes to Andre Bagoo’s poems, I’ve learned to bring a storm lantern of wonder and still, ecstatically, expect to get lost. This is one of the first poems I ever read from Bagoo, whose second collection, BURN, was longlisted for the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. It remains a talisman. I incant it to myself, eyes closed, as an invocation of mystery, of family trees, of the deep well of the unknowing.

In “The Night Grew Dark Around Us”, hibiscuses, daughters, mothers, authors, are all related. Not entangled: there is no abstraction here. The bloodlines are clear. Unfurl for yourself a map of ancestry, but instead of names, inscribe flora. In reading this poem, nothing will seem more natural, and the poet does not struggle to convince you. You will find yourself convinced, through the conduit of language, as unvarnished and resonant a mechanism for meaning as is unbroken bread to the starving.

Incantatory poems function like prayers. That is because they are. Notice that the first word of the poem is ‘let’: it is a permission to prayer, much as a priest says, “Let us bow our heads.” Let us stand for the final hymn. Let us now perform aarti. Let us proclaim the mystery of faith. The faith here, the ultimate gamble of the poem, resounds in love.

“His love has no end.”
“His love has no end.”
“His love has no end.”
“His love had no end.”
“His love has no end.”

Do we repeat most earnestly and penitently that which we know to be true, or that which we have always known was/is/will be true? Let us come to this poem expecting to be shriven of complacency. Let us, amen.

Read “The Night Grew Dark Around Us” here.
Andre Bagoo’s third book of poems, Pitch Lakewas published by Peepal Tree Press in 2017.

Puncheon and VetiverThis is the second 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’.