Seven forgettings in slow descent (Isles of the Snails, Trinidad)

By Gilberte O’Sullivan

i
Last islands in the flow,
who’ll miss you when you go?
where booted and barefooted ungently passed
Explorer exploiter leper martyr
Sailing their wit’s end
To this gulf of shimmer and night sweats
where the howler monkeys’ call
startled syphilis-stricken Columbus,
who misheard them as wildcats
his pressure hackles forever raised.
Until the howlers bled their bellows silent
pelleted by schoolboys hard as ball bearings.

ii
Effigy this island in parchment
Crumple and toss it to one side
It unfurls newborn.
The island longed for its likeness
and so begat an identical island, sediment swaddled.
Flame-footed Soucouyant flew here expecting the same luck
But its cursed child yawned and died, petrified.

iii.
Power was lost a rosary of decades ago
Electric lines harp dumb across the zenith
the only shocking charge left hangs in the poison
balance of Manchineel trees swearing shelter
from shell-crushed grit under delicate arches.

iv.
At Doctor’s Bay, spirit Agatha reveals
One hundred years’ sea flagellation.
This loft fashioned for her habit
sun-pickled Dominican white.
Sister of the stubborn-skin, by his wounds,
the dreaded leprosy would end with her.
She danced her faith across the lathes,
her palms warm as teak,
before the corruption of lesions.

v
The American zombie huntress
might make us famous, except
she has no beads to break the spell,
she mispronounces Soucouyant for sequoia.
Perhaps the latter feels more feminine.
Sequoia, singular in its genus
lone standing burnished bark, endlessly scaling.

vi
Once upon a whaling station,
pilots blew their final days south,
In these days dolphins leap in innocent opus,
turtles dive suspicious, heeding the ghoulish echoes.
On this jumbie ground the forgotten await the haunted living,
Hawk and corbeaux stand sentinel.
From here there is no proceeding as visitor nor vagrant-dweller
Adroit as snails we flee the pirogues before night, trailing silver ocean.

vii
El Dorado must immolate to cinders
(the only way to eradicate disease),
cicada wings rise, like ash strewn
across unhallowed ground.
Sh-Sh, a sibyl’s chant supplants what was sacred
Ch-aca ch-acare, the umbilical isthmus break
The isolation of beginning, the solitude of being.
Islands without end. Amen.

Artwork by Boscoe Holder “Sheila on a Rattan Settee”

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