The Cida Poet Writes of Guyana

Here there’s no Orinoco, Demerara,
or darker rivers—
but journeys, sinuous; no recalling
Botanic Gardens, sidewalks of manatees,
snake slithering in dry grass…

Only flamboyant trees lining a roadway,
your face ruddy, remembering
a wife’s death and yet smiling at love
as your son conjures up Africa’s past,
visions too obscure to truly remember…

Making territory out of ancestry—
mutterings of other languages
with false accents, a tongue’s
twister I say—

Other memories, boundaries,
hard clay, alluvium of unpredictable
soil, such politics…
heaving at the edge of the ocean, throbbing
with seawalls. More words really,
Seymour’s rim of sun in your eyes…

Angles of a country gone haywire…
and you recover with love, bringing
the sidewalks, the stench, the garbage…
hopes in sewers, the ramshackle hospital,
further aid without strings… making a snapshot
and video out of poverty… muttering with other
Ottawa memories while perpetually skating
down the Rideau Canal—
always our tropics’ winter.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “The Cida Poet Writes of Guyana”?

I kept thinking about how we in Canada want to help Third World countries, and maybe, too, how fortunate we are to be living in Canada. My experiences are both Third World and First World (so-called), so I write from both perspectives. More direct inspiration came from a poet-colleague living in Ottawa who works for CIDA (the federal government agency) charged with dispensing aid to a country like Guyana. In a sense the poem is viewing the colleague as more than just that, an official; but he’s also a poet, with his own sense of where he comes from, his son—I wanted to personalize him—and to suggest that rich or poor we have a common humanity. The view that “geography is destiny” also came to me, as inspiration.

What poetic techniques did you use in “The Cida Poet Writes of Guyana”?

No special technique as such, I think, save for trying to find the right kind of rhythm and the right words, far beyond “chopped-up prose”—as some cynically describe free verse to be. I think much is going on here, in each line, with each word I have chosen, as I attempt to re-create the connection between temporal spaces as I pile image upon image. More than anything else, the imagist sense in me is uppermost, maybe, as I wrestled with the poem’s inner rhythms and its outward form.

This poem “The Cida Poet Writes of Guyana” originally appeared in South Asian Connections. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 132 (Spring 1992): 124-125.

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