The word sits, sovereign as a female lord, in the body of “Confessor”. It’s one of the poems from Cannibal, a debut collection of revisionist firebranding, a restitchery of the Caliban mythos. Cannibal reads like Shakespeare’s being held by the throat with a hummingbird-feathered shiv. What leaks from that neck of literary empire goes into Sinclair’s cauldron of conjure, along with many ingredients fearsome and strange.
“Confessor” keeps a sea pulse. “Out here I am the body invented naked, /
woman emerging from cold seas” has been my Facebook status since last year, in the spot where you slot your biography. I keep it close because it reminds me of how much I prize changeability, the resilience of shapeshifting, in myself and in poems. This poem is a palimpsest, like the one created by littoral surf, and in every stanza something precious, sea-strange, sharply intimate, washes up for our awe, our heated wanting.
“All is knocked back”, says the poet as she knocks us back into the waves of the poem, dragging out intimations of desire, abandonment, violence: an adult version of a story for children, describing what you might find on a Caribbean seashore. The poem is a great unlocking of vulnerability, and a great keeper of secrets: its principal figure roams the site she has been deposited, or else discarded, “whole months / spent crawling this white beach / raked like a thumb”. In seaglass-glimmering language, the poet could be giving us the scrap of a treasure map, promising us that the sea has already alchemized the rest.
Every time I read “Confessor” I see a new woman emerging naked from the seas, sucked back in to resurface, wilder and wetter each time. I smell her skin. I lick its salt and find myself, cast out, unmooring.
Read “Confessor” here.
Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal was the winner of the 2017 OCM Bocas Poetry Prize for Caribbean Literature.
This is the 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’.