Belmont Portfolio — for Earl Lovelace

JOHN ROBERT LEE

Prologue: Belmont window, Saturday

some girl you never spoke with
some girl who walked on the other side of your road
some girl you looked out for from your blue window
lived in a house like this
behind hedges of croton and hibiscus
behind a wall with a gate and a mail box on it
behind bay windows and a red verandah —
maybe she was as shy as you
maybe she watched you between her curtains
maybe she wrote your initials on page 67 of her green maths book —

when you met her in New York years later
with your school-mate her husband
you could not get past island gossip
and the vacuous opinions
to ask about her house
and the sacred memories you had scrawled on its cream façade.

ites, gold, green

who will come to the red gate with the red mail tinbox
its pillars topped with red pyramids
who will walk past the yellow hydrant
and stare through the closed gate
at the thick variety of garden
wrought-iron barricade round the verandah
who will see the green banana leaf
peering over the grey wall
for who might come through the red gate on Pelham Street?

somewhere in Belmont, yesterday

maybe epiphany, maybe:
not what was, or will be, but what is
right there in your eye 
angel wings, diaphanous, earth-corrugated
some annunciation, some mas revelation
Rudder-Minshall creation incarnating
high art across the galvanise,
to raise up some good-looking seraphim
from the corner of Belmont Circular
to cross the Savannah
in the ricochet and dingolay
to ascend for a moment on Grand Stage
from troubled, narrow lanes of the fallen.

Belmont Circular, vernacular

“if you comin’ down from the mountain/Oh God oh/When de riddim beat is in town/See me jumpin’ on de Savannah grass/de Savannah grass.” – Kes the Band

they don’t believe anymore
they have abandoned joy in the dancing line
the amazing image, teasing metaphor
workshop camaraderie, shavings off the chisel
jam sessions in a small bandroom
smell of wet canvas
actors and dancers all over each other —

gone busy in the world, trying to catch their big names
no change to spare, time somehow impossible
become strangers to kindness, generosity, thankfulness
foreigners to their first neighborhoods
the city’s first pleasant suburbs
blue street-signs, winding alleys
intricate fretwork designs over open verandahs
tin mail-boxes on gates or walls
prayer flags in the gardens
multi-colored galvanise barricades —

now the houses age like lonely parents
rusting roofs, broken jalousies
walls crack like a earthquake pass,
next to younger nondescript blocks of concrete apartments
groceries, restaurants, fortified with burglar bars
and their forbidding character,
but it’s the same everywhere in these islands
pushed down with debt, despair and indifference
divided among parties of pride —

do streets, suburbs, cities lose their joy
like artistes fixed on billboards
like critical hens of writers
like vain coteries of painters,
do they forget the first loves  
strolling from the first red gates near the yellow hydrants
the first-pan runs somewhere on Jerningham Street
young Shadow and Rudder with their first lyrics down a Belmont lane,
forgotten the innocent vows in the old stone church
the first drums of the first Africans in Freetown?
I suppose —

but walking with my visitor’s apprehensions
past this worn house, its satellite dish, its cracked wall
I raise my eyes to the spire-tip of Margaret of Antioch, Anglican
and from a room in the house
listen, a girl with a nice voice
singing with Kes the Band, 
“if you comin’ down from the mountain/
Oh God oh/
When de riddim beat is in town/
See me jumpin’ on de Savannah grass/
de Savannah grass.”

and the joy that is
the sacramental grace that always is
lifts the house of I
to embrace with surging heart 
Belmont Circular vernacular.

think of the Mystery

dear Belmont, given my intractable infatuations
my, I suppose, naïve expectations
and embarrassing enthusiasms

I meet Mystery incarnations
everywhere: brown heron on the Lea
fragrant marjoram in my front yard 

intent gaze of a child across traffic
and here, on a Belmont gate, 
teasing metaphysical speculations

the ubiquitous red mail tinbox
numbered 12A, Piscean number of completion,
with Alpha of the universe energies,

denoting harmony and perfection —
here, through the rusting gate
past the leaning, browning galvanise
under closed jalousies of the house next door
down the rough concrete walk
to what yard, what house, which Angel

of mercy, grace, unfathomable love
in what incarnation, in what masquerade
robed in what joy —

see, Belmont, my intractable infatuations
irrepressible imagination
my foolish certainty?


cello player waits for the Festival bus, Pelham Street

“..not another world, but this world experienced after another manner.” (Kathleen Raine).

on the third Day of the Creation Festival
the Ancients sit together
Earth in its mineral curve and design, Fadda
elegant water-bearing Plant in its clay pot, Mudda
young one clinging near with its tendrils, Alovera
and they chanted rumours in the Garden
of other Days to be imagined
to be imaged by Unimaginable
impossible cloud gossips of more coming 
more than Earth-stone and Earth-plant?
noise of — galaxies? flying fish? sea birds?
and did you hear the Tree proclaiming like some Angel
“beasts, beasts” – what on earth are they?
beasts born of Fadda Earth?  feeding on Mudda Plant?
and this Nancitori, this Nightmare:
Unimaginable will imagine in His Image
some Earth-Plant He calling A-dam!

in the neat stone garden of Villa Shalom
corner Pelham Street and Reid Lane, Belmont
in a back room somewhere
the cello player rehearses for a Festival play 
called Silent Scars.

Belmont gothic, Thursday

“if your clothes tear up/and your shoes mash up/you could still dingolay.”
“I came down to the city/like a walking symphony.” – Shadow

weeks toppling over Thursdays
so fast, is like the days shorten
and will soon be time to go, to leave
to kiss the last kiss, squeeze the last squeeze
prance the last dingolay
return like a stranger to the promise land —
in this October, your birth and death month
I YouTube your classic gothic Dr. Shadow,
Belmont boy, raise with peas in Tobago
griot wailing from the Savannah
wailing down tracks
of your desperate notes
elemental, existential
excavating despairing desires
“what’s wrong with me?”
off hungering, keening scales
of the bass melody
you rode like a midnight robber
watching for something, something
in the naked eyes of revelers
in the stripped eyes of lovers
in the wine of singers, dancers and flag woman
in the fretwork of the tenor pan
in the tired eyes of the old Brigade
in the mirror, in the mirror
watching for something, something
for God, really,
how else you explain
that perpetual empty space
out of which you hopped
standing in the same place
pulling from your guts
the plaintive chords
of those lost to themselves 
in the hell of poverty —

so we learn Dr. Bailey, gothic Shadow, how to put the story:
hear in your ear a prancing line
chant extension of syllables through waving melody
phrase in the cave of your palate surprising phrases
straight from the yard behind the galvanise
“you don’t need a bull dozer to become a composer”
ricochet and dingolay and wave it
down in the common life you come from
Belmont, Laventille, Charlotte Street, Tobago
stand up jumping in the parade of stanzas
with your rough, beautiful, holy voice.

leaving

leaving a place of passing infatuations
marking in your diary
a cartographer’s route of various sentimentalities
tentative journeys across newly familiar streets, like
Queen’s Park East into Jerningham Ave
left into Archer St, right on to Erthig Rd
left again on to Pelham St, crossing Meyler to find the B&B
corner of Pelham and Reid Lane. Ok —
ok, the beautiful front door of colored glass
ok, the light-brown curtain tied like a shirt around a waist
ok, the quiet stone garden
camaraderie around the kitchen table
the view from a blue window
yellow hydrant and red mail box,
ok the galvanise fences, the once fine houses
the surprising steeple of Margaret of Antioch, Anglican
and ok the crowds in the Grand Market and the noise
art galleries, plays, readings, concerts. Ok.
leaving, letting go of ambiguous embraces, 
picking up the suitcase of the little you have
pulling up pegs of the tent sojourner, again
to go back where you started,
after the “marvelous journey” to some Ithaka, 
until the next departure, next terminal
until….. ok, leave that there —
so you bury in the pilgrim ground
behind the beautiful door of rainbow glass
and its diaphanous curtain tie like a shirt around a hip,
in the quiet, stone garden of fragrant herbs, 
impossible infatuations
vague nostalgias
plotlines of shifty memory,
and board the narrow tube of the airport bus.

Epilogue: airport bus, rain

“forgive us this day our daily weakness/as we seek to cast our mortal burdens on your city, Amen/O merciful Father/in this bacchanal season/where men lose their reason../and if you know what I mean../let Jah be praised.” – David Rudder

strange old rubble wall
coming through the wet window of the airport bus:
different-shaded, different-sized stones
from sidewalk up to some indeterminate,
abstract, unfinished, uneven top,
looks blackened, as though burned,
and then, more even clay bricks finish the wall
which holds rust and red metal doors —
the humans of Port of Spain 
walking past it, traffic lights and pedestrian crossing 
might know who the strange wall is and its story,
is it historical artefact, crumbling edifice forgotten by the council
an unknown artisan’s work…
but it raining, the bus moving slowly in traffic
we look at bridges, torrential canals, white mosques, 
bars and billboards cruising under drizzle,
the young people singing Chronixx, and
a category 5 hurricane beating up the Atlantic.

All photos courtesy John Robert Lee.

John Robert Lee is a Saint Lucian writer. His recent publications include Pierrot (Peepal Tree, 2020), Saint Lucian Writers and Writing: an author index (Papillote Press, 2019), Collected Poems 1975-2015 (Peepal Tree, 2017).

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