for Ron Paste


Do I look like the sort of person who’s not fit
to go out and buy a pen on her own? The phrase
“May I borrow a biro” is unspeakable
for its vocalic ugliness. The task in hand,
this third daze of work, is dis- and rearranging,
suspecting, assessing, keying in and tagging
all the historical spellings of the verb QUIT.
“That can’t be a lot? QUIT is such a little verb?”
But people have been quitting for centuries, and
especially in Scotland, all in different ways.
So this third daze I break from work to buy a pen.
Let it be an ethical biro. I set out
for the fair trade Quaker shop. The assistants talk
more than I do, showing me pens two fingers thick
encrusted like scary rhinestoneri charging
pink-purple, delivering jabs in the eye
to mass-produced-capitalist-consumerist-
conformity. But not suitable to be housed
in the zoo of QUIT. Sorry, silent, cash intact,
I look elsewhere, and not far off the ordinary
rewards this initiative: sell-it-all, old-fashioned,
like nineteen fifty-three. nearly customer-free,
a newsagent of the English variety.
The cardboard cradles for goods on these shelves wouldn’t
aspire to store shoes, let alone to be reborn
as cut-out stars for a wonky schoolhouse mobile.
With reverence for age, I abstract a biro
not quite dried up. I softfoot over to the queue.
So form a line of one, outnumbered by cashiers.
The older assistant keeps things under control.
But can’t seem to stop his helper singing singing
Singing to him lovingly in a high-pitched tone,
“I’m going to put you in chains and take you home.
I’m going to put you in chains and take you home.”
Neither raises his voice; nor does the one quiet down.
In a queue of one I shall queue, change in hand, wait,
queue in a queue of one, however long it takes.
Anything is better than going back to QUIT.
I can buy a pen on my own. I’m fit.


We are not born with an instinctive understanding of the mangrove.
We drove out and booked and paid to step in the flat boat bound for mangrove.
It feeds on land dissolved ocean dismissed sunset deferred, the mangrove.
Snakes up top stayed squamous yellow knots of sleep guides tried in vain to shake awake,
the silky anteater too knotted in sleep on high.
The mangrove the movement of the mangrove.
Look lively.

Like the ribbing of a gothic cathedral inlaid with no stone,
inlay of scuttling tree crabs, branch-attached above-ground oysters, sprung
inlay as if pollution resides not in the invisible hills,
inlay of wickerwork red and spotted white and black by nature growing not green
what is this mangrove, salt-nourished, where sea floods inlets?
Can we breathe here?

Yes and in yogic and Carib perfection
the swaying incarceration over
still and suddenly all into blue
perfection of lake and fluorescent ibis
winging to roost in perfection of dusk.
Will this or any memory of serenity
permeate his sleep – your two-year-old
who’s slumbered now beside us in the boat
long since we stepped apart from automotive dust?
Once or twice he woke and looked.
Will peace keep with him?


My darling love, as evening falls
and for the first time I breathe air
without the fine and germy plume
that sweeps and moults from vent to chair,
I feel the freshness that derives
from parking lots that run beside
rivers diverted underground
and cold-pressed tourists who deride
how like a driven hog I streak
back to my filthy pen. I glow
like tea-lights in a scented tub
at your approach. The dark I know.


You, detesting lizards but having been given,
years ago, a rubber shark plus half a diver,
are insulated from this lunchroom shock: riven,
his arm, the croc engrossing, jaws that devour.
What is the ground over which newspapers murmur?
Unimaginable, unimaginable.
Aren’t there shark bites so sharp that what makes the surface
is gamely swimming torso, red pennants engulfed?
Unimaginable, unimaginable.
What breaks the surface –
Maybe gratitude for cold climates and dry land.
A sense of detachment from that which moves the hand.


Sometimes I dream in a language that is mine only by scratches,
but I can get the tune of it, a whole conversation
between strangers friendly to each other, dawdling behind me
somewhere outdoors, a sandy cone of syllables
rising and falling, whole sentences
coming smattering to the surface from an occluded source.
Sometimes it is the actual people around me on a journey
whose language drifts into another throughout my dreams,
the prerequisite for transformation always being
that both tunes already are familiar to my memory,
so that the Irish have become Jamaican; the Spanish, Trinidadian;
while the French stay French, but sound maternal, a loving thirty-nine.

Some time ago, I dreamt that I could no longer see by means of light.
Without knowing by experience, or even scientifically,
what this would involve, I saw by means of heat.
How gradually I registered the changeable reddish-dark,
and that my dream environment was room-like, and enclosure,
and that the pulsing blue was situated in someone, not unlike
yourself, whose breathing seemed too loud to me
because of the lack of light; and how, instead of speaking,
you comforted my shoulder, both incandescing white.

vahnicapildeo lived in Trinidad until she moved to Oxford, where she studied English and Old Norse. She now works for the Oxford English Dictionary. Her books include No Traveller Returns, Person Animal Figure, and The Undraining Sea (forthcoming). Work in hand includes Dark & Unaccustomed Words (poetry) and Static (stories).

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