Poetry Parnassus: Vertigo (Bahamas)

Poetry Parnassus is a project of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, hosted at the Southbank Centre in London. It ran from June 26 to July 1, featuring 145 poets from around the world. Here is the Guardian’s interactive map, where you can click on a country and read its poem. I will be posting them on a semi-regular basis until they’re done.

Vertigo (for Gwendolyn Brooks and Kiah), by Christian Campbell (Bahamas)

A little girl twirls in the airport,
in the line for New York. She looks
like five and already cocks out her chest.
She is adorned with womanish things,
pink plastic bangles and ruffled socks.
She opens and closes her denim jacket
like wings, as she whirls. She will come
back with more pink things (with which
to twirl). Her lips are pursed big-woman
style (she has the kind of top lip with nerve
enough to curve over the bottom one). She is
the colour of coconut candy. Her face
slopes slightly. Her cheeks are full.
Her eyes wear the seriousness
of sun. She answers to her name
and also to Precious. Her name
might be Precious. She does not fear
her smallness. She likes her Bajan
ways. The spinning is all that counts.
She is already not soft and her forehead
Is broad and African. If twirling and
smiling went together, she would give
one wide with dimples and her tongue
between her teeth. Singing goes with
twirling and this requires fierceness.
She knows how to hold on to the beauty
of a thing. She acts this way. You’d want
to say “she is a wailing dervish”
or “she is a rainstorm colleting”.
You’d want to say “her hair is sectioned
like the parishes” or “look at Oya’s
grandchild.” But she is just twirling,
which her singing tells and tells. It is just that.
Her plaits are countless today, full
of bluebird barrettes. All else are staring,
sensible and still. The girl gives a whirl.

• ‘Vertigo’ from Running the Dusk (Peepal Tree Press, 2010),
by permission of the publisher.

An exuberant, delightful portrait of a 5 year old girl in an airport queue, on her way to New York from the Bahamas. The poem suggests that childhood is also another country where anything is possible, not yet ossified into the “sensible and still.” “The girl gives a twirl,” and it’s clear we’ve lost something irreplaceable.

2 thoughts on “Poetry Parnassus: Vertigo (Bahamas)

    • Yes. the most emotionally satisfying of all the Parnassus poems so far. It feels good and optimistic, without ignoring the still and silent world she’ll have to navigate. Lovely stuff.

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