A Time Past

A potted plant’s conspiracy,

I bend down, rise up in duty,
like a worshipper

in dwindling mist where plants
and humans

follow a breathing zest. Then
a sudden hiss—

a moment’s careful withdrawal
in the almost disaster.

The snake lifts a venomous head.

I imagine a dozen bend-downs, rise-ups
in a flash

before the pitchfork-boys descend
like stalwart angels

in the kill. Snake-curled, potted head,
chlorophyll and ichor—

our senses blessed.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “A Time Past”?

“A Time Past”—the title is a giveaway, I think—is purely my reflection on an incident that occurred when I was living in Guyana and had started working as a teenager in a fledgling cocoa plantation. The poem was written around the same time as “A Sun’s Life,” I think; and once more, it’s about the elemental world with a silent drama taking place, if only in my consciousness; and tension—I think all art is based on tension—the juxtaposition of opposites to make the poem aesthetically satisfying.

I recall a specific situation inspiring this poem: my seeing and about to hold up a cocoa plant in a pot with a venomous snake coiling in it and ready to attack; and it’s the persona in the poem engaging with the snake. Maybe a vague religious theme is in the background, even if I am unconsciously invoking a Biblical Garden of Eden motif. In the end the snake, plant and the “pitchfork-boys” become one: the experience is transforming.

What poetic techniques did you use in “A Time Past”?

Once more, it’s the associative imagination at work, but with tension and reconciling opposites. I think I deliberately tried to bring this latter point out as technique in itself. The two-lined stanzas best approximate or capture what I am trying to achieve here, in free verse; and the line-breaks are very significant for me because they influence the specific stanzaic pattern while ordering the poem to achieve the best poetic effect.

This poem “A Time Past” originally appeared in Sources. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 76 (Spring 1978): 97-97.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.