Here are two more pieces from the unpublished St. Lucia Landing manuscript that I've been trickling out on this blog. I was fortunate enough to travel to the island with my family several times in the early 2000s. I'd never been to the Caribbean and was taken by the setting, people, and culture.
I recall one of my teachers, Garrett Hongo, cautioning writers in our workshop about the risk of casual cultural tourism poetry. I took it to mean dropping in to someone else's genuine culture and appropriating for one's own work that which seems exotic, different, or dramatic in either sublime or brutal ways, for example, a tropical village or a war zone. On the other hand, painters, photographers, and writers render their experiences while traveling or reporting in faraway places. I think the test is whether you bring good will and a fair mind to the work. There are now blinking yellow lights marking the way in creative and intellectual sectors, added there due to a deeper consciousness about past practices that were arrogant or worse. When I was in a Catholic elementary school, at least once a week the nun in charge would call for us to quiet down at our desks and spend a few minutes examining our souls before we formed a line and walked over to the nearby church for Mass. That kind of introspection is useful in general.
The two sketches are from notebooks I wrote, drew, and painted in while on vacation. The villa view is a colored-pencil drawing and the coconut palm is pencil and watercolor.
St. Lucia Landing
All night the sea rolling its dough—
Near imperceptible thrust squeezing
A white curl from the end of its flat blue.
Moon’s going to three-quarter, the stars sparse
As clouds push through the Lesser Antilles.
Fragment of one constellation—jagged line
Of light like decorated trees at Papa’s Taverna.
The noon-time sea will be such crystal aqua
All I’ll be able to do is look, which is enough,
Not an easy thing, to just sit and look—
Even now I’m scribbling for you.
High on a volcano, cloud shadows shift.
Where the neck shot fury, cold rock ages
On rain-forest trails west of Soufrière.
St. Lucia, St. Lulu, blue-green and green-blue—
There’s an ooh in the blue air, in the o-round mouth
On the white deck of the cruise liner chasing a tank ship
Bound for the oil farm at Castries. Dark parts of the seascape
Like indigo ink slurred through turquoise fields in the bay.
Jet-lets of spume way off shore: the dip boat, no banana boat,
Shipped out. Each villa boasts conch shells, T-Rex of seashells,
Grail we never find up north, bony case with smooth pink lining.
Each villa is a conch of white walls, terra cotta floors.
With its owner away, we snowbirds claim the showy chassis
For a few hot weeks. Julia, at the front desk, says Nelson Mandela
Said if he had to choose a place to live outside of South Africa,
It would be St. Lucia, where he could sleep with doors open.
It's so calm, she says. Julia asks if my hometown is “cool,”
Calm, she says, not like busy New York City, where her sister lives.