...the angels turn away
shamed by sight
of a people who would
make martyr of murderer
and common criminals
and declare the drug dealer absolved
by the 4Runners and foot-runners he owns
and the money he has to burn
celebrate the success of crime
the triumph of lies and liars
the downfall of honest endeavors
and men as moronic
for being sincere
and determine how full of fun
their day of demonstration is
by how many
muggings and maulings are executed
and women are molested downtown
and the number of workplaces shut down
and stores pillaged
and burnt down by fires lit
by a madman with a vision one-tracked
to the throne
who mock the messages
of Mahatma and Mandela
murder the messengers
and giggle and jump-up
happy as a herd of swine
wallowing in its own excrement
as the tempo
of the drums of war grow
as if prayer:
Harken ye the words
of your children:
Walter, the most brilliant and humble,
betrayed and blown to bits
for his caution:
all you wretched and abused
with hands and hearts entwined and grounded
that they not be made to bear guns
to make this a no-man’s land!
Recall the laments
of your son Martin
and his disillusion and pain:
‘So jail me quickly, clang the illiterate door
if freedom writes no happier alphabet.’
and his admonition
like that of Donne
timeless and good for all men:
‘…all are involved!
all are consumed!’
and give heed
lest this your ‘nation’
self-styled and so-called
and already splintered like wood for fire
indeed becomes the fuel
for a terminal conflagration
of its children’s creation!
Since I have already blogged on three pieces in Balwant Bhagwandin’s i hear guyana cry, to avoid infringing on copyright laws (any further) I’ll focus on one other poem (above) of the remaining 18. The poem is titled “The angels warn,” and is a good representation of the messages and style of the pieces in the collection.
Bhagwandin dedicates the collection to the following people, some of whom you may know:
Dedicated to Yohance Douglas and others…
Haroon Rasheid, invalid senior citizen, robbed and set afire by the barbarians (and subsequently died) even as he kept wake for his wife slaughtered by another kind of animal…Yohance Douglas, teenaged University student and the scores of defenseless others brutalized and butchered by savages from both sides of the law…Keisha, baby of five months arm broken and beaten into insensibility for her baby’s jewelry in the heart of the capital city in the middle of the day…and all the victims of the carnage that is visited upon Guyana…
The list of tragedies gets more horrifying as the dedication piece heads downward, and sets the tone for what is to come.
Drama and repetition
The poem begins dramatically with a two-line stanza: …the angels turn away / shamed by sight. Drama is created by the use of ellipses at the beginning which suggest that some prior action took place that possibly warranted spiritual intervention, and was so horrible, the angels turned away. The dramatic effect is further heightened by the isolation of the two lines. The reader has to pause and wait to find out what caused the angels to turn away in shame.
What follows is a series of alliterative, rhyme-lulling accusations: of a people who would / make martyr of murderer / and common criminals / liberators / and declare the drug dealer absolved / by the 4Runners and foot-runners he owns / and the money he has to burn / celebrate the success of crime / the triumph of lies and liars / the downfall of honest endeavors / and men as moronic / for being sincere / and determine how full of fun / their day of demonstration is / by how many / muggings and maulings are executed / and women are molested downtown / and the number of workplaces shut down / who mock the messages / of Mahatma and Mandela / murder the messengers / of reconciliation ....
If read aloud, the alliterations could lull a reader into a certain complacency by the rhythmic sound of their repetition. For another reader though, the repeated sounds may jar and in that case work well to intensify the seriousness of the speaker’s accusations.
The speaker probably anticipates the reader who may be lulled by the repetition, and gives a jolting pause at the beginning of the third stanza with the line “who mock the messages.” The line jolts if one has to stop and ask “who mocks the messages?” (as I did). I had to revisit the top of the poem to be reminded of the “people” being addressed by the speaker.
And something curious happened when I revisited. I suddenly felt as though (because I wasn’t paying attention) I were as guilty as the people being accused of irresponsible, destructive behavior in the poem. Whether or not Bhagwandin meant it to be, that was the awakening moment in the poem for me.
In stanzas five and six the angels’ warning is revealed: Harken ye the words / of your children: / Walter [Rodney], the most brilliant and humble, / betrayed and blown to bits / for his caution: / …. Recall the laments of your son Martin [Carter] / and his disillusion and pain: / ‘So jail me quickly, clang the illiterate door / if freedom writes no happier alphabet.’/ and his admonition / like that of Donne / timeless and good for all men: / ‘…all are involved! / all are consumed!’/ ....
The alliterative rhythm is less noticeable in stanza five and is absent from stanza six (the final stanza) until the similar ending, multi-syllabic “conflagration” and “creation” in the last two lines. The use of the words “conflagration” and “creation” may lull in a way that is different from the lulling created by the poem’s previous alliterative rhyming. The words cloak more blatant synonyms like fire and doing and could potentially soften the message. Imagine the impact of lines like this instead: indeed become the fuel / for a terminal fire (or hell) / of its children’s doing! (Not necessarily poetic, but you get the point).
He’s talking to you
The call to remember Walter Rodney and the laments of Martin Carter may suggest a specific addressee for the poem. It may be a sentimental call for those who were present and were stirred to either political or artistic revolutionary action at a certain time in Guyana. Many of those people now live outside of Guyana, and have probably long given up on the promises of those days.
The poem’s speaker brings a message from heavenly sources for people who once cared. His message seeks to awaken those lulled either into complacency or compliance with the ongoing violence and destruction in Guyana. He warns of a generation that will inherit the destruction and be doomed to the ultimate destruction of it all. He calls attention to history. Though on one hand, the poem’s constant repetition—style and theme—may work against its possible intent to be a wake-up call, on the other hand the repetition and the journalistic approach also work to give truth to the accusations and the condition he chronicles.
The speaker—as in all the pieces in the collection—is a person who was there...someone who bore witness...someone whose account of the situation we can trust. He’s a believable chronicler of events, not just another bringer of woe.
These days, a warning from the angels may be received with skepticism. And the fact that the angels speak in subdued tones at times, use cloaked language (as I pointed out), and bring messages from the graves of poets and great thinkers, may be cause for sentimental reflection, rather than revolutionary action. Is this a message to be heeded? Will the audience / addressees respond? To be fair, in other pieces in the collection (some of the pieces I've blogged on), the language is uncloaked and the call to action is clear.
“The angels warn” and the other pieces in i hear guyana cry warn of the ultimate, irreparable devastation of a place (the poems are dated 1998 to 2003) that once was paradise. That warning is still appropriate today. The recent history-making violence in Lusignan makes the warning prophetic and urgent.
I recommend that you read the collection so you too can bear witness, and more importantly be stirred to some action.
The collection speaks to us—to you and me.
[ i hear guyana cry (2003) is Bhagwandin’s second collection of poetry; his first was Wild Flowers (2001). Read a review of that collection by Marilyn Stephanie Browne here. Both books are available for purchase here.]