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Category: Reflections 20 Jul 14


Sarah Beckett, Britishborn, European-educated, Caribbean artist, poet and film-maker, belongs to a tribe I privately think of as the cascadura set—named after the fable told by Sam Selvon in one of his short stories when a woman feeds her foreign lover local cascadura fish which prevents him from ever leaving these islands.

We, I, every immigrant who has arrived here and simply never left, are more lover than family to these islands. The idea of going back becomes a nostalgia we live with. But small things shoot into our bloodstream, stay in our hearts—the line of immortelle trees, the heart-stopping poui, the nuances of the language—a biting, affectionate humour, the picong which makes no one a stranger.

A man, love, her Trinidadian husband brought Sarah here as a bride. He is back in Europe but she’s still here digging foundations— teaching at UWI, exhibiting at Carifesta, designing for the Notting Hill Carnival, exhibiting her experience of the Caribbean—from the walls of the Trinidad Oval cricket grounds and the Hyatt Hotel to the US, Europe, the Far East.

On a burnt orange dusk at the Country Club this past poui season I first heard  Sarah read her poems on Albert Camus, the French-Algerian Nobel Prizewinning author, journalist, and philosopher.

Her poems suggested hours of musing and ultimately inhabiting the philosopher. They took us into the heart of France, its history and its soul. But it was the Trinidad poems that made me recognise in her, part of a cascadura set. I felt my heart deepen and soar, a luxurious silk crush of emotion, on hearing her read this:

Trini Gothic

Bamboo Cathedral, Trinidad / No bronze or marble here. / This

aisle of dusty earth / meanders under arced / bamboo, pillars

pale / as eau-de-nil soar / to rooves of leaf and sky.

Wind blows us along / among dry leaves that swirl / and furl

around our feet. / We walk beneath green domes / of broken

light, our fractured histories / laced between our fingers.

Tree frogs whistle plainchant. / Blue tanagers trill counterpoint /

for Bach, translated into birdsong.

17 Minutes in Blue

We bounce over waves into / a blue trumpet note of noon, /

sun’s fingerprints on our skin / a cloud-errant overhead. Our

pirogue / ‘Sweet for Days’ sits low in the water, / pushes forward

like a small otter / towards the Bocas and smiling dolphins /

rising from their watery kingdoms. How can we not smile back? /

Cradled in our shell of sunlight / we’ve simply kicked off our shoes

/ to stand barefoot in perfect accord / with a round blue world,

/ stepped out of the cities of tragedy / to dawdle among dolphins

romping / in an up-sidedown sky laid like a caress /

across sapphire depths.

The boatman knows the route like he know he knees, / his legs

are masts planted on the deck. Eyes half-closed / he steers us

back, wind-waves roaring in our ears / towards a small lump of

green, tiny deep-water / cove, a crumbling jetty. Seventeen minutes

in blue / from there to here—a bird sings us in / on a waterfall

note from major to minor.

I approached her then, a halting conversation culminating in an invitation to dinner by Sarah. The night was ringed in a spell near her studio with paintings bold, intricate, subtle. We talked late into the night in candlelight in her little garden to a chorus of frogs and insects and the lady of the night wafted in from somewhere.

Every meaningful conversation in Trinidad, no matter what the subject, has its prelude like a kind of shame, like a moment of silence for the backdrop of a country daily mourning its young bullet-riddled men—the source of a careless governance.

But Sarah wouldn’t be drawn into it that night. When I asked her what made her stay all these decades even after her children were grown and her husband migrated, she said, deflecting, disingenuous, “birdsong.”

Later when she sent me this poem, I understood what she meant.

Cloud Country—Excerpts

Clouds are walking over the hills / invisible birds palaver in

the banyan tree. / At dawn we are the only travellers climbing

round ghost-mountains / embroidered with Love-vines. Ferns fan

out like poems / but can’t quite hide the blight of Coca Cola signs

/ jammed between the poui and bois canot / on the road to Blanchisseuse,

rain trying out a tune / like panmen playing for love in an

empty room. / Light slaps us awake—sapphire between black

leaves. / Clouds close in again confusing the trees, the road runs

for cover / blurs blue up the hill to a door that opens to sky / a

tree bending into the wind, rain coming in like a lover. / Quietness

folds around us at this point of arrival circling the past. / Birdsong

unseams the silence fringed by the surf’s gruff undertow. /

Clouds sidle in, steal the horizons of our histories, / parachutes of

fog full-bellied with past griefs / collapse over boundaries, shroud

the trees, / reduce geography to the space between us / calm as a

painting in tones of grey / at our table with two mugs of tea.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur