My long-lost, older cousin, always smiling, forever young,
came out to the Caribbean late in life, for love.
He drives us through Bridgetown, past celebrity homes
along potholed roads to the northern point
where whales pass and Atlantic and Caribbean meet.
Shows us plantation houses, a historic church with funeral
in full swing, the hymn-singing hypnotic as we stand
among the trees with mourners unable to get in.
He talks of foreign exchange rates, an itinerant
RAF career in flight simulation, being tasked
with delaying a Soviet advance for 24 hours,
and how he missed out on the Falklands.
Unable to hide his disappointment at a “real Bajan beach bar”
he had earmarked for our entertainment.
‘Spock’ and the other characters
that once gathered on the beach all day
long gone, the waiters casual, argumentative.
We order flying fish sandwiches; he cannot finish his.
Later at the hotel bar above the disco as staff boogie
on their break I remind him of his father’s mighty stereogram,
and he talks of his love for Burt Bacharach,
Ray Conniff, James Last; the wonders of the Hadron Collider,
a time when twin-engined planes were banned from the Atlantic,
and the moment our galaxy and that of Andromeda will meet.
A bell ringing somewhere.
Morning has broken.
Eating a chicken wrap in Independence Square,
among the white egrets of St Kitts,
the island fought over by British and French,
after they had united to massacre the Amerindians.
From the viewing point the plantation owner
watched his slaves, every movement regulated
by the ringing of the bell. When freedom came
almost all the bells were broken. Now
from the viewing point there’s no sugar
to be seen. Rainforest has retaken the land.
Breakers crash against the reef. Orange iguanas ponder
In roadside trees, sparrows dance along balconies
and among breakfast tables, looking for sugar sachets
to spear open and loot. One shoreline home owned
by Madonna, hardly used. French and Dutch sectors
vie with each other to build more hotels and condos.
Plants that shiver in tiny pots at Tesco
thrive here in huge exuberance.
Bajans run, jog, stride around their evening circuit
as sun sets over the racecourse.
A guy in an Arsenal shirt hails me: “Hey, big man!”
I want him to know I’m English, not American.
Steel band on the dock resounds like church bells.
Catamaran crew dance for the tourists;
this is not what we came to see.
Always another island, beckoning. I swim
to the rock, where something resents my intrusion,
reminds me of its sting for the rest of the day.
Frigatebirds mock the captivity of cruise passengers
on their day away from land. No shopping
today for discount jewellery.
Only a distant, cloud-shrouded island
shaped like a topless sunbather
to long for as the ship ploughs by.
Brooding or spent volcanos on the horizon.
The seabirds weave impossible patterns
over foam and seaweed garlands.
Flap, glide, flap, skim,
slap into water at forty-five degrees
as if by mistake, never liquid for long.
How many tints of blue are there?
How far can you ever see?
In the grounds of a former plantation mansion,
now a religious college, is a huge bell.
A notice reads:
“Please do not ring this bell.”