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A Simple Man
by Caribbean Poet Ian McDonald
The garden needed more attention
we had decided. A man was at the gate,
slow-witted, surely; the first time that he spoke:
small vocabulary, stuttering words,
hesitating diction and a frightened look.
‘Ah want the job. Ah could work mo’ hard.’
A froth of spit lightly lined his lips.
What made us let him stay I do not know.
The routines explained, it took him long,
but gradually he learnt the daily rules
of cutting, clearing, digging, planting,
the right amount of watering, mould to be applied.
Learning all this slowly strengthened pride
and self-assurance grew as flowers bloomed
beneath his fingers, trees came to blossoming
and trellised vines shaded paths he cut.
A day came when he could take steps himself
to make more beautiful without instruction –
what he had begun and now had got to know
in his heart’s root through utter dedication.
He just did small things very well –
repeated and repeated day by day by day
never letting love withdraw at all from work,
until the year’s end saw the good results:
a tended patch of earth transformed, green,
serenely ordered, shining with the fruits of care.
As the great plots of the world unfold
my thoughts drift often to this simple man.
There are few that catch the eye of history
and those that do, break the world or save it,
discover truths that none have found before,
find the fires that make the stories ring
and art shine for centuries, make timeless song,
all others born are lost beyond their deaths.
A man at peace who tries his best
and gives his share of love and work
but knows no dimension but the ordinary
is forgotten quickly in the seethe of time.
He has been with us for many peaceful years,
daily has he filled our lives with good.
We wake at mornings and hear the sounds of work,
the sweep of broom, earth being dug and placed,
water filling and the clean chop of wood,
the tuneless whistle which tells his peace of mind.
The house will fill with flowers and green leaves.
I know that this is good. It holds the sense
of work fulfilled and certainty and grace
enduring beyond the purposed hour.
It’s said that nothing lasts,
but if what’s good keeps,
then this, I know, will keep forever.
SOURCE: People of Guyana: Poems by Two of Guyana's
Best Known Poetic Voices, Ian McDonald and Peter Jailall,
published by MiddleRoad Publishers, Canada, 2018.
IAN McDONALD, born in the
Caribbean island of Trinidad
in 1933, is a poet, novelist,
dramatist, and non-fiction
writer. After moving to Guyana
in 1955, he settled there since
then. Today, he also spends
part of his life in Canada,
close to his children and
McDonald graduated from
England, with a Bachelor of
Arts Honors Degree in History
(1951-1955), and later
received his Masters Degree.
After graduation, he moved to
then British Guiana to take up
a post with the British
company Bookers Ltd., then
owners of the colony's sugar
estates. When the company
was nationalised in 1976, he
remained as the
Administrative Director of the
newly-formed Guyana Sugar
Corporation until his
retirement in 1999.
His love for literature and
writing began as a schoolboy.
His first poems were published
in the 1950s. Over the years
his poems have appeared in
Caribbean journals, British
and American magazines, as
well as many Caribbean
anthologies of poems.
His novel, The Hummingbird
Tree (1969), later made into a
BBC film (1992), is considered
a Caribbean Classic.
His publication of poetry
~ Mercy Ward (1992);
~ Essequibo (1992), winner of
the Guyana Prize for
Literature - Poetry 1992;
~ Jaffo the Calypsonian
~ Between Silence and
Silence (2003), winner of the
Guyana Prize for Literature -
~ The Comfort of All Things
(2012), winner of the Guyana
Prize for Literature - Poetry
All in all, I have been writing, trying to write, poems
since I was a teenager. I have found the process
mysterious. Occasionally a poem emerges in the
consciousness fully formed and can be dislodged from
there onto paper with a shake of the pen. Mostly what
occurs is a sense of something needing to be said, a
couple of lines in the head, perhaps just a phase, and the
accumulation of a poem begins and goes on with many
fits and starts and adjustments, abandonments and
reformulations. Lines collect in my mind and gradually
the poem as it is written emerges. Any poem emerging
from a process like this has generally been through
many drafts. Very often such beginnings never become
whole poems and rest forever on discarded work sheets.
Long effort yields nothing worthy of being said.
~ IAN McDONALD IN ARTICLE "A LOVE OF POETRY," GUYANA
CHRONICLE, SEPTEMBER 13, 2014.
|PEOPLE OF GUYANA
POEMS BY TWO OF
GUYANA'S BEST KNOWN
GEORGETOWN - GUYANA
THE ROYAL SOCIETY
UNIVERSITY OF THE
DOCTOR OF LETTERS