Some say poems are not made to comfort us.
To which I say: comfort, like love, can assume many forms. There can be comfort in rank incivility, clemency in outrage, repose in a burning bush. Comfort, for instance, in the galvanize roof of a hut Vladimir Lucien signals as waypoint, in “Tjenbwa: Devil’s Bridge, Morne Lezard”.
If you have read Lucien’s Sounding Ground, you’ll be familiar with his suite of Tjenbwa poems. You might call Tjenbwa voodoo. Or Santería. Both definitions suffer from the unavoidable mistranslation that arises from calling a thing outside of its uncolonized, natal tongue, but you grasp the spirit, if not the bois, of what Lucien is mapping. You clear your table for the visitation.
“Tjenbwa: Devil’s Bridge, Morne Lezard” is my favourite poem in Sounding Ground. It roots me in comfort, via the aqueduct of unsettlement. It assuages me with uprootedness, with a roving, shamanic wisdom that predates Jeep and machete and even compass. In careful, steadfast diction, not an adjective rustling out of place in the undergrowth, Lucien gives us “boundaries / too thin to police until a map starts to grow / from the seeds in its soil, and trees and places / push past their Christian names, / and an island discovers its wet, riverine spine.”
“An island discovers its wet, riverine spine.” I have long grafted those words into my base alchemy. They have become part of how I bring myself to poetry, to all poetry, peering into the bedrock, nails greedy to untap its wild rudeness, its audacity, its exposed heart.
The world is filled with Devil’s Bridges. Perhaps each of them has its own Tjenbwa, animating its passage. But I linger here, on the bridge Lucien builds, feeling the vines take my ankles, feeling my cutlass fall away, clattering.
Read “Tjenbwa: Devil’s Bridge, Morne Lezard” here.
Vladimir Lucien’s Sounding Ground won the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, making him the youngest recipient of the award.
This is the twenty-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’.