The Bocas

Looking out from the road
to Matelot, casting imagination
over the indelicate hump around us,
the Northern range became the stone-axed
rim of a chasm cut deep enough for a history
to make its catacomb.

Before we descended
like idle corbeaux to the shore, we might have
understood what it was that drove the people
inland, from Gasparee to the west, those caves
yawning lazily for curious tourists
with cameras and Old World love of story,
and Carrera’s arrogance—
prison without walls to pen the brave
and criminal, their fate almost burlesque—
misplaced and forgotten as history.

Bocas. Angry swell that made the islands,
broken off the tip of Trinidad.
Crumbs from unleavened bake left on the counter.
Serpent’s Mouth. Dragon’s.
It swirled, open, like a madwoman, to thrash
and swallow pirogues—bows pointed
skyward like the aristocracy, sterns half-sunken,
undignified, for the drowning poor—
their displacements heavy with fear and lore
for ones who lost the belly, and too many
stubborn brothers, to it.

They know how to mourn that honest mourn:
lovers and family, diluted blood,
martyrs still there in the ocean, bones
rebellious with age, scattered and gray
in silt and thirst for breath.

But, always. The water.

I could tell you if you want to know.
Real men find their death in them waters, oui.
Even some partners of mine and all, who swear they know the sea.
How long I have to wait for this rum,
for me to tell the story right?
Earl! Call Earl for me there!

Everybody knew.
Those waves rolling a rhythm steady
as the mile-markers that looked like
Scarborough. Crown Point. Speyside,
Buccoo from The Gelting at dusk.
There, like instinct, present. A macume.
Pervading as culture, lunatic water breaking legends
on wave crests.

The Bocas, the Bocas—
that word come from the—
must be some damned bad word
to take them heroes and them.

But, really, it comes from the Spanish,
from words separated with nods and smoke,
damp with pity for us, who felt
we knew the language,
but even cigarettes knew what we could never, here.
They crackled, embers jumping off their tongues, hurdling
twice-broken and unset fingers like dogs hunting in the bush.
Smokers, with every drag, flicking hard before ash could grow.

Because you have to.

Because the sea was always
like that: impatient, impatient,
not given to lingerers or crowds,
a ruthless mimic
of time bored with itself, wagering
on the strokes of fools, spawning
widows and orphans, and leaving its shorebound
with only grief for pole, sorrow for tackle,
hands wrung like duennes cracking calabash
and song notes.

You have to work fast, boy,
before the ash could grow.
It could only take you on for a little while
before it get tired of you, and just so! It take you!
You think you could be more vexed
than them waters, boy?

Of what to stand with brush
and color, or anxious poet’s hand
or glassed, flattering eye to marvel at, then?
Of quiet efficiency, unceremonious, with
glistening ebony men, their own gods, casting
nets wide for dolphin, as Gasparee slept.

Had they not trawled
for vagrant dead when honor, too, sank?
Where had mothers wished
to hide, before graying breasts held fast
beneath blended cotton braziers rushed
here to burst, wild and untuned, from them –
wrinkles cut deep across their chests
like drying muck – calling their children to land?


Before we saw the horizon again,
since invading the hills, there was the smell,
wild ocean that buoyed restless on the wind.
Those who prayed bound their petitions in sackcloth,
the unfound dressed for nobility at sea, obituaries
straining recall from each resident soul.

And it, rumbling mercurial,
a vast cemetery, too vain for a scene
beleaguered with gravestone and epitaph.

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