What rustles in the topiary of dawn? What leaps after it, rifle issuing smoke?
Olive Senior‘s “Birdshooting Season” was published a year before I was born. It feels, and reads, as immediate and present as if I’ve stumbled out of the forest, palms bleeding, to cup it like water. The narrative thread of the poem is clear and sharp: men go hunting, women cook and wait in their wake. Out of this, Senior brings a thousand branches of signification, layering and weaving, giving us a nest in which to feel we are anything but safe. Don’t be lulled into thinking this an innocuous poem. It asks you to read into its unassuming territory, its quiet rooms where women pour tea, its boisterous fields where men trample, ready to gun down something they cannot otherwise reach.
The generational cycles of longing and foreboding are laced deep in this poem, lianas of warning curled around every image. Girls long for birds to soar, while boys dream themselves into the hunters’ boots of their fathers and brothers, uncles and others who call themselves men: Senior presents us so subtly with a world, and its rules, that have existed since we dreamed up gender, and how it moves our everyday.
Nor does Senior hold us at omniscient remove: the ‘I’ of the poem is a little one (we imagine her a girl, but he could, with equal imagination, be a boy) who keeps vigil in this night that precedes husband-sport and wife-enduring, a child who says, “My father’s house turns macho / as from far the hunters gather”.
No poems of Olive Senior drag me anywhere. I never feel forced, rushed, stressed into a too ornately, or too grossly-tinctured system of beliefs. They reveal themselves, with all the cleverness, and instinct, of soaring birds.
This is the twenty-fourth 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’.