Is the Devil a speculation?
He feels real, in Shastra Deo’s poem, which is set in Australia’s cane fields. I found this extraordinary, unsettling piece while I was researching for a previous reading series, and I found myself unable to let it go. Maybe I love it because it’s spare. Maybe I love it because it hints at brutality. Maybe I love it simply because it marries two things I’ve thought about my whole life: the devil, and the cane field. If you’re from Trinidad, and adjacent to, or a member of, the Indo-Trini community, you’ll understand how cane, the physical and emotional proximity to it, is never really far. I didn’t go looking for Australia’s cane fields, but Deo’s poem summons them, and I feel myself falling into this poem like it’s a life, or a shard of one, I could have lived. Devil and all.
If the speaker of the poem is afraid of the Devil, they don’t tell us much about it. Instead, we get to see speaker and ultimate sinner in gentle, familiar gestures: “The devil held my hair back / as I washed my face in the kitchen sink.” Soon after that, “The devil and I sat at opposite ends / of the tiny dining table and listened to the roaches / scuttle beneath the refrigerator.” What Deo leaves for us is an uneasy ample space for us to brocade finer details, if we wish it. Are there words uttered, between the Devil and the speaker, whose hands smell of burnt sugar, who we meet at the beginning of the poem, nose bleeding and bordered by solitude?
When the Devil goes walking towards Cairns, I’m almost sad to see him leave. I almost want to run for my own country’s cane fields, to see who I might meet.
This is the second installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.