Saturday, April 13, 2024

Easter crossings


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The idea of life emerging from death is one that may be applied universally. Certainly within the Christian community, the Easter season which embraces Good Friday and the Resurrection, is a culmination of that theme. I thought it might be interesting to hear how some of our writers who will be present for the Bim Literary Festival & Book Fair in May have expressed their thoughts on the Easter season that is traditionally celebrated across the region.
For this writer, memory triggers the creative impulse, so that the resulting poem, Aunt Lill, becomes a vivid recollection of the past: “It is by smells I remember you best/ an ancient dome-topped cedar chest/ covered by camphor-scented woolen shawls/ Inside, fragrant in dried khus-khus, shiny mothballs/ white table-cloths bordered by intricate/ embroidery; hand towels and linens immaculate/ Figs in a cold stone-floor pantry/ drying sea-moss, bottles of guava jelly/ Pears and mangoes ripening in an old store room/ Smell of coconut bread on a sunny afternoon/ Gone – Another year this Easter time and I remember/ You, named for lilies and the scents that linger.”
On the other hand, Edward Baugh is inspired to write his poem Journey after seeing a wood carving by Jamaican sculptor Edna Manley, and carrying the same title: “I go a journey. This bark that bears me/ this curving wood my winding sheet/ opens and lifts, makes angel wings/ about my shoulders. The dark hollows/ of my eye-sockets, of my cheeks, the empty well below my rib-cage, the cup of my palm/ acceptant – these grave concavities./ I am the vessel. Fill me, Lord./ Stripped down for motion, my feet/ together, pointing, my body/ arcs like sail to wind, like dove-/releasing hand, aspiring. I lie/ cradled by these arms of wood hewn/ from a tree of love – my boat, my bier./ I go under. I ascend. Draw me, Lord.”
St Lucian poet John Robert Lee is described as “the foremost Caribbean Christian writer of his generation” with a “truly incarnational view of faith, anchored in the reality of human experience and expressed in richly textured images of Caribbean landscapes, dress, street life, music, dance and his native Creole language.”
Lee indeed depicts the deity but also the humanity of Christ in his selection The Passion and Resurrection Canticles: “Have you ever shaken hands with a man who was dead?/ have you ever looked into the laughing eyes of a man who beat death?/. . . shared his salt bread? . . . I have known the encompassing arms of such . . . embalming Grace.” Lee also graphically depicts the life emanating from the crucified Christ: “Yet, even now . . . stricken/ between earth and heaven, His heart opens to a new covenant/ and pours its blood and water on the Father’s reconciling hands.”
Austin Clarke, whose work is referenced along the book tour of the literary festival, lifts the mood somewhat with his short story An Easter Carol. Here is the quintessence of Barbadian working class village life with the young boy having to get up early and fetch water, feed and milk the goats, along with performing any other household chores that his mother demands of him.
This particular morning, however, is different. The house is redolent with the smells of coconut bread, pudding and some well-seasoned baked pork.
None of these delights, however, can equal the joy the boy’s mother feels at the fact that her son will be singing in the St Michael’s Cathedral this Easter Sunday morning. All the “big-ups” who wouldn’t give this little poor black boy a second glance if they passed him on the street will be watching him, her son, singing in the choir.
With the utmost care the mother dresses the young boy, and among his items of dress is a pair of shining new shoes. Tight, tight, shoes. He has no choice but to wear them on the long, long road to the church.
Unfortunately, the poor boy never gets the chance to sing in the choir, after all. He has had to take the shoes off so as to relieve his tormented feet, is unable to put them on again, and with tears pouring down his face, he has to remain outside the church and watch his rival take his place in the choir.
In keeping with the festival’s theme of Crossings, the Honey Bea/Bee is the boat that will cross under the lifted Chamberlain Bridge. The name of the boat is indeed a fitting one, since the honeybee is itself part of the ever creative cycle of life.  
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century; email

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