The Caribbean Writer


Cecil Gray


I cannot dole out patronizing
pity to the poor. I knew the slums
firsthand, not from some hill
looking down. I saw squalor
next door. My eyes cannot paint
gossamer scrims on porous partitions
of barrackyard rooms. I see
deprivation before I see poetry,
degradation before heroism.
I know only luck takes you out
of an alley that enters a cemetery.
I have trouble with words
that say we were simple but happy,
as all those paternal slave owners,
playing Christian, fooled
even themselves with.

and envy stalked their victims
like shadows, just as they did
in the suburbs. Ignorance spewed
out loudmouthed belligerence
as sure as evangelical
salesmen. There were rats
in holes biting as hard as
higher-class rodents.

The poor
make me angry when they accept
pats middle-class eloquence
from a very safe distance
brush on their shoulders,
when they listen to poets
who were boarding-school graduates
use the slums’ dialects to mask
their descent, and wear dreadlocks
to seem to endure the same pain
as those that they call their
suffering brethren.

The poor must rage
against lies, against fascism’s habit
of keeping them fenced in a kraal
as quaint innocent subjects for verse.
Destitution’s images are ugly.
Rage, rage when mockery
gives glamour to hunger,
nobility to disease,
as perfect primitive sources
for literature’s sorties.
They must refuse to be
hosts parasites feed on.
They must rage like a fire
sprouting fierce tongues
telling their stories.


Copyright © Cecil Gray

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