I left Black Panther hoping Wakanda was real. Isn’t this part of what Afrofuturism implies? You hold some hope in your mouth for the majesty of African queens and kings, who never have to beg for anything: who can topple empire with the whir of a spaceship’s heart.
As vibranium is to Wakanda, so is oro, gold to the history of conquest. “Place Name: Oracabessa” starts us off with an etymology lesson. “Oracabeza, Golden Head”. Kei Miller is our tour guide through this place, but instead of brochures, and sticky lollies for the kids, he’s dropping gold into our palms, pulling us back through the keyhole of history. Remember when we read Lorna Goodison, and looked through the keyhole at Columbus and Queen Isabella? This time, it’s a different view, same Agent
Orange Colonist. We start at the site of plunder, and work our way back through time, toppling comforts as we go.
The poem is constructed conversationally, with tactical fluidity. You don’t even know your eyes are welling with tears til you’re more than halfway in. You could be pinpricked by Miller’s mellifluous capacity to sing language, offering us “a ship that in 1502 slipped into Orcabessa the way grief / sometimes slips into a room”. The poem isn’t so much concerned with summoning galleons as it is shattering them. Anyone who wonders where the contemporary speculative lives in Caribbean poetry should turn to the poet’s The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, winner of the 2014 Forward Prize for Best Collection.
Here, it’s not so hard to imagine James Bond as “a barefoot bwoy from St Mary, Jamaica”, to feel all the weights of gold in your sunbruised, sunlovered hands: everything glows. Everything, we pray, can be reclaimed. Seize the ships, shaken not stirred. Overrun them, laughing.
Read “Place Name: Oracabessa” here.
Kei Miller’s most recent novel, Augustown, was the winner of the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.
This is the seventh 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’.