A Stink of Perfume and Decay
A dear family friend wrote to me this weekend – a quick email before venturing out into the lung-charring air. This writer and retired librarian had been re-reading one of Dad’s books of poetry: On the Broken Mountain, published in 1979.
She had been particularly struck by his: A Christmas Elegy. In the graveyard of St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Halfway Tree, Jamaica. It’s a four part poem Dad wrote on one of our many trips to see Mum’s sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, and childhood friends.
Part III is excerpted below. Thanks for the wonderful reminder, Mrs. R. 💜
In white Jamaican houses of well-turned wood,
Each with its flowering trees and sun-drenched lawn,
The planters’ ladies sip their tea and yawn,
Assured that, being beautiful, they are good;
While the coarse slave, his back slashed to the bone,
A flower of blood starting from each incision,
Before his death may see, in sudden vision,
An England which her sons have never known –
Item: a watch whose hands have fallen away;
Item: a gold coach spattered with red mire;
Item: a church, a gibbet for its spire;
Item: a stink of perfume and decay.
How could he know, as you did, my ancestors,
That health springs from disease, and wealth from need,
That public profit, born from private greed,
Is the boil that rises where good money festers?
Triumph of moral ingenuity!
But now you’re gone, and left your slaves your past,
While you lie under these monuments, freed at last
From the strict disciplines of hypocrisy.
Excerpt from A Christmas Elegy. In the graveyard of St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Halfway Tree, Jamaica. Norman Newton. On the Broken Mountain. 1979
Header: Barrington Watson. Out of Many One People. 1962