A correspondence between
Shivanee Ramlochan and Andre Bagoo
I confess to you: I think often of fire, my friend.
Burning bodies has always been crucial to how I understand death. The
first cremation I attended was my grandfather’s; he was transformed into
ash and tiny fragments of bone on the banks of the Caroni River in Trinidad,
according to Hindu rites. I remember the immense nature of that heat,
how even out in the open it felt like a furnace. I remember the dome of my
father’s head shorn clean, in accordance with the traditions. In truth, fire has
never been very far from my traditions. Fire is what I believe and hope will
herald my death, in the end.
Despite this, I’m afraid as hell. Some nights, I close my eyes and the
Northern Range of hills in flames comes to me, like the harbinger of a dream
that might yet come to pass. It’s true that some forests can take care of
themselves better than humans can dare to imagine. It’s true, too, that
most forests might be better off without a human footprint. We did, after
all, weaponize this fire. To warm our homes, to scorch our meat, to slough
the life off our bodies when we’re ready to leave.
I admit to you that when I wake in the hot night, I reach for my match-
stick and candle to try to stave off the burning heartache of the world. It
may never work, but I offer you such an admission. All I can do is try to
caution myself against the wrong kind of flame.
Shivanee (Poem attached)
The World’s Oldest Woman Offers Herself for DissectionThat canny empress ripped from her colony
Shielded the lucifered tallow with her madness,
Trailing torn lace and nitrous promise
Staked through their mad hearts with sargassum seaweed,
All madwomen understand it’s better to consume the manse
With fire. It’s better, if you can, to light the
Lamps on your pathway to hell.
To protect myself from burning, I stuffed my old heart full
Of sphagnum moss. I lay down in the bog of the
Cretaceous country and begged for a loamy death. Let
Every soil cradle me when it’s time to go.
To keep the fire from the trees, I ate them.
Scissor me surgically, and you will find
Bromeliads from the Botanic Gardens
Functioning in place of my pink lungs.
Come closer. Lean in. The Guiana Shield wetland forest
Balances on my breastbone, Roraima’s Amazon
Reservoiring upward into my suprasternal
Notch. Cut me there and let loose the waterfall.
Remember, as I’m laid out on an amphitheatre
Table, what I’ve said about madwomen
Is that we mark the cycle of living and reforestation through fire.
Forgive, if you can, the smell of burning human flesh.
When the world was first beginning, there was a forest.
You can see that, can’t you, staring at my insides?
Peel back the flesh curtains, jigsaw this mountain
Range from that one, witness how deciduous and strange it was.
Dear one, delivered mad as I am into our green basin,
Sanctified, arboreal, calcified soft tissue,
Deribboned skin as sucker vines, unclassified by modern
Science – know I tried to keep growing things alive.
Even now, in the year of Our Fall 1001, when we are hotter
And more intemperate than any combustible hell.
Mervyn Taylor tells the story of the
owl in the Rockefeller Christmas tree
the giant tree arriving prostrate, dragged
by its feet, gift-wrapped in pea green paper.
They found her, eyes startled, feathers,
hungry, and the worker wondered if he
was imagining, like that time as a
child when some kids swore they saw it, and screamed
in the schoolyard. Imagination. Maybe
this is how fate corrects the chaos of
a tree’s felling – with an owl. And maybe this
owl is like your poems: hunting by night,
a parliament of talons, heads spiraling,
each a candle that buds before dying.
Bring light, bring wind, rip words from
others, because in our city of rain-washed
histories, all the trees are falling. Dearest,
you promised me poems. You sent me fire.
I give you some torn poems –
Tropopausesuch sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder, and then, again,
such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never
knew such a night
a poor, bare, forked animal
a small deer
a storm at his bare head
such a fellow
such addiction as yours honours
such unnatural degree
such a tongue
such dispositions as ours
such a need to hide itself
such a monster
such a king
Secondary CirculationWhen the wind works against us in the dark,
roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
Come over the hills and far with me
And be my love in the rain.
Cento for Richard Georges
skywardWhat are poems but prayers? birds always find their way back home but home is nowhere – a memory; a never was Do wings remember the air my beard grows wild I forget goodbye comes in the languages I cannot remember coffee grounds wet like earth when I am gone don’t tell anyone I am gone the clouds no longer look like drowned bodies but I can no longer trust my mother’s histories The sun sank like a hurled stone you will find your way Everywhere is song the hollow wail of galvanise roof tearing away from the rafters still, long after the storm had taken him They say he held the door the thing that breaks you is all there is
When I was very young, younger still than my grandfather’s funeral, I would
climb onto my uncle’s roof and gaze over the sleeping green plains of Las
Lomas. In my thirty-four years of living, I’ve seen verdant hills denude to
housing complexes, I’ve felt the throat of the rural part for rivers of metal,
as constant and solid as long, liquid staves splicing the hinterland. When I
read your poems, I taste the wind of that frayed childhood. My heart beats
as quickly as the green span of an owl’s. If I go mad in our Anthropocene,
dear one, then let it happen to wingbeats. Hold on to this if ever you find
yourself in a place made unbearable as a furnace, a landscape where the
temperature has become your enemy.
PS, a coda:
Cinquain of SafekeepingWhen fear
Wide as naked doves, cry
Into the air for safe passage
Shivanee Ramlochanis a Trinidadian poet, critic and essayist. Her first collection of poems, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting, was published in 2017 by Peepal Tree Press and was shortlisted for the 2018 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her second book, Unkillable, is forthcoming from Noemi Press (2022) as part of their Infidel Poetics series. She is the Book Reviews Editor at Caribbean Beat Magazine, and works with the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the Caribbean’s largest Anglophone literary festival.
Andre Bagoois a poet and writer, the author of four books of poems. His essay collection, The Undiscovered Country, is published by Peepal Tree Press.
© Shivanee Ramlochan and Andre Bagoo