Alone in the street
this five-year old
wanders, his belly
hanging out like a placard.
The village women
do not notice his slogan;
they merely laugh.
Watching him now
I’m convinced
he’s nothing more
than a fanatic.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Nephew”?

The poem “Nephew” came to me rather quickly, as I recall. I was sitting in the balcony of my family’s home, and I saw this nephew walking along, going to the village well in his desultory, wayward way, his abdomen hanging out, almost, and maybe he was potbellied. He was naked too, in the tropics, and there was, well, something like pride and his being purposeful too. Of course, I was very much concerned about poverty in our village and country, in South America and everywhere else, but especially in my sugar plantation world. So the nephew’s belly was “like a placard”—he was making a statement to me, and I hoped to everyone else; of course, he didn’t know this; neither did the simple village women looking at this wayward boy, whose image stuck with me.

The poem, of course, is ironical in tone; the five year-old being a fanatic in the way he was telling me about his poverty, and telling the world also, as if saying, “Hey, come and look at me. Now do something about my situation, my poverty.” See, he was a propagandist, if you catch my ironic twist or drift.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Nephew”?

The poem is written in free verse. I do believe in the natural line, what comes in an unaffected way—as you cut close to the heart, to genuine feeling and emotion: it’s what gives the poem its special haunting quality, I believe. The subject also determines the special form of the poem—and here I am writing about poverty in the Third World, am I not? I wrote the poem in Canada, but went back into memory to find the central image of the poem, plumbing, what I have elsewhere called, the “bottomless pool of origins.”

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.