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This poem is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

Brunetto Latini Lorna Goodison

And so we proceeded along the built-up mud banking
above a water course like an infernal Bog Walk gorge
with fog draped like wet sheets against fire burning.
Just as how people in foreign build thick mud walls
to keep out big sea when it rises up high and swells
to overflow their food cultivations and pasture lands
in places like British and French Guyana near Brazil.
Or some Italian town named Padua along the Brent
where they erect big retaining walls with weep-holes
to protect tower and yard against deconstruction's
snowmelt, earthrunnings, carrydown and watershed.
It's as if hell's civil engineer got an illegal gully contract
to bitch-up some similar but lean-side walls like that.
By now we are travelling in the bowels of the earth
leaving the murdersuicide woodland so far out of sight
we could not spy it even from the land of look behind.
We buck up a procession of duppies shuffling below
the banking, staring up into our faces like how some
scrutinize one another under the light of a new moon.
Staring, like fast people trying to see who passing by
dark road on a moonless night; staring, like an old tailor
with glaucoma trying hard to thread a fine-eyed needle.
The staring duppies screwed their faces and frowned,
then one sight me, grab me by the hem of my gown
and said `Lord have mercy, could this really be true.
Dear poet is it you?' As he touched me I focused hard
riveting my eyes upon the charred skin of his face
so that I summoned up his image from my memory.
And bending near, I peered into his burnt countenance
and groaned `Is it you down here so Teacher Brown?'
`O my friend I do hope you will not object if Brownman
turns around and walks along by your side so allowing
this ghostly procession to proceed a while without me.'
Said I, `I would be most honoured if you and I could sit in,
if it pleases him who is my guide through this dark pit.'
Said Mr B., `whichever one of this done-dead-already band
stops for a moment must remain still for a hundred years,
forbidden to brush off these drops of corrosive acid rain.
No, my young friend do walk on, I will walk below you
until it will be time for me to rejoin my duppy company
who must perpetually weep and wail in eternal flames.
So since I dared not descend from my banking and walk
with him on the burning no-life path, I inclined my head,
walked with it bowed low to show my respect, like a mystic
meditating reverently upon the divide between goodness
and evil.' `And what brings you down here before your time,
was it that big accident up by Providence? And who is he
that is leading you through this dive of such deep darkness?'
Hear me: `Up there in the land of the living, I went astray,
I lost my livity, lost my way, before I reached the fullness
of my years, only yesterday, before day did I find myself
and this master here appeared and wheel and turned me
like a Revivalist Darwish/Sufi and is now leading me home.
Hear Him: Follow your guiding star, for in all the good life
I experienced I learned this one thing that's true. What is fi
you, can not be un-fi you.' And had I lived out my time
and purpose, instead of having it cut short, I would have
helped, supported and encouraged your work, seeing that
you are a true poet, God-blessed. But that bad-minded set,
those pharisaical keepers of our country's gates, whose
hearts are as hard as Blue Mountain alabaster, those who
occupy the chairs of the colonial masters, they envy you
your talent. But poet, the roseapple was not ever meant
to flourish beside these blighted soursop trees, bear in mind
that even old proverbs call them blind-guides, a bad mind
petty, mean spirited, myopic kind, take care to uproot
their bad ways from your heart. It is written in the stars.
It must surely come to pass that your honours will make
both parties want to claim you. That ram goat will never
reach high enough to crop on such sweet grass, let them
devour their one another's (excuse me) one another's rass.
But never let them cut down any innocent plant that
despite their stunting hands will still thrive amongst them.'
`Mr Brown if I had my wish,' I said, `you wouldn't be
banished from the land of the living in which you were
a source of light among our people. I recall your gentle
compassionate and fatherly face as you taught me daily
how humans beings can make themselves live eternally.
This image of you, pentimento, surfaces on my heart and
lives on in my mind and while I am alive I give thanks
for it, and I will tell of you to the world through my life
and my art. Your predictions for my future I will file
with some works of mine I save to show a wise someone
who will be the judge of these matters anon, if I can ever
reach her higherheights. As the Most High is my witness
I tell you this: As long as, I say, as long as my conscience
is clear, I am prepared for whatever destiny shall bring
my way. Twice already, I have heard that same prophesy.
But let Fortune's wheel turn around as it pleases, round
and round she must go and countryman must dig with hoe.'
My spirit guide paused when he heard what it was I said,
turned and looked into my eyes and spoke. `Well heeded
is well heard.' But I did not answer, I went on speaking
to Teacher Brown asking him who was down here with him
in hell's hot sands, from manor-born to just commerown.
He said `it is good to know about some deads down here
on this walk with me; about the rest of them, let them be.
For our time is too short to engage in idle pointless talk.
Long story short: We were all professionals of true worth,
men and women of letters, scholars of high renown all
brought down by arrogance and excess regard of self.
I would tell you more but now I see some fresh steam
rising out of the sand, and some parvenu duppies I want
to avoid are at hand. Hear what I say, don't cry for me or
pity me. Read my books, they vindicate me. In my words
I am alive and I am no duppy.' So saying he turned sprinting
across that fiery plain like a runner competing in a race,
and then he seemed like one who ran ahead and passed
the tape first and not as one who had come in dead last.
                       from Dante, Inferno, Canto XV

This poem is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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