Thursday, November 24, 2005

Imaginary Roads

In the Land Cruiser, driving through the forest between 58 Miles and Kurupukari, in the long tunnel made by the overarching trees, I had tried to imagine the course of the road as though the land were laid before me like a map. I imagined the road emerging from the forest near mountains I had yet to see; I imagined it winding round the Pakaraima foothills and plunging into the Takutu River near Lethem. The Land Cruiser jolted continuously and all of us passengers had long since grown accustomed to being thrown from one side of the cabin to the other with the rhythm of a rolling ship; but I managed to slide my small white notebook out of my bag, found a fresh page, and scribbled two lines, describing the road as a snake. Later, struggling with my memories of Guyana and trying to figure out how I could write about my trip, I thought I could make these lines into a poem.

I wrote a sentence from Wilson Harris at the top of the page: The map of the savannahs was a dream. In my head I had an image of a hill: black rock and pebbly red earth, crackling tufts of dry grass, a hot blue sky with some milk swirled in, and my face and arms crusted with sweat and dust. I wrote what I thought were notes for a poem.

A black snake thirsty for salt
fell asleep with a dream of the sea.
A red snake hungry for quartz,
we have not seen its head for a thousand years.

Never call me mighty. Never call me vast.
I am the lord's handkerchief.
I am four claws in the mud,
I am four weeping scars, named and remembered.

The lord sleeps long in the river,
his hair grows a thousand miles long,
swift as a season, shining in the mud,
a thousand razors dreaming of gold.

Why should a mountain be more patient than a god?
Lord of a vulture's voice.

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