Monday, January 11, 2010

Poem: "Friday Speaks"

Friday Speaks

Friday was nice, and we were friends.
If only he had been a woman!
—Elizabeth Bishop, “Crusoe in England”

The heart is the most delicious part.
The part we do not eat is the feet, too tough the meat,
like . . . how do I explain it?. . . like
shoe leather. They are unclean, associated
with the meanest spirits, to be stamped down. They are
a . . . what is the word you use? . . . fetish,
no, taboo. That’s right, taboo. We pile them up
like an ill-assorted heap of shoes, and burn them afterwards.
When they burn, they smell different,
not like grass, but like the muddy roots of grass.

Things are changing now.
We wear shoes and so our feet are growing soft.
The young men, the wild men, the reformers,
are eating them to make their different points.

It was not like that. Not so long ago,
my enemies brought me to the island
to kill me because I had raped one
of their daughters. They had a duty to kill me
just as I had a duty to run away. But Crusoe
saved me. He saw me as a victim
and a better class of natives.
I obliged,
learning his religion and speaking his language.

He was making a lot of things in those days
to kill time. He told me he took months
to get the parasol right and was inordinately proud of it,
promenading along the beach twirling it.
He kept complaining of not having
a kettle, and tried explaining its usefulness to me.
A big hole in the belly for pouring water in
and a small hole at the end of a neck
for pouring water out. I still don’t see the need
for two holes when one will do for pouring in and out.
At first I showed him where
to find more liana a knife could reach easily, and how
to pry turtles open with a sliver of rock, to save the knife.
He would be pleased with me but the sun
would stay stuck for more hours,
no matter how many times he glared at it.
So I pretended not to know when the wild berries would ripen
and we trekked many happy days to the berry bushes
to check on the blushing globes.
The best thing about finding me, he said,
was that he got to make two of everything.
Not quite everything because I did not tolerate trousers,
but I let him make me shoes
and put them on my feet.

He said we had no sexual relations, did he?
Well, there were nights, after we prayed
but had more to say, except we had said Amen,
when it got really lonely
on the island, and it creeps into you, barely
parting the grass,
and pins you to the ground.
Some nights he treated me like a woman.
Other nights I treated him like a woman,
the way we do when we are many weeks on a hunt.

I have read his book. It brings back good memories.
It doesn’t get it wrong so much as simplify the story,
the way, for instance, he discovered
a single footprint.
I laughed aloud at that part.
The truth is always less mysterious but more complicated.
That is what I try to say
when I translate English books into my native language.
I rescue, for my feet-eating young men, my wild reformers,
not just what is useful
but what is made significant by toil, talent and time—parasol,
knife, goatskin trousers, shriveled shoes—
before they go down to time,
rescue them from Crusoe’s island for the main land.


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