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Martin Carter

The works of Martin Carter, the Trinidadian poet and activist, were first introduced to me by my uncle, John LaRose.

Uncle John’s veins coursed with an exuberance and no matter the subject he was speaking of his eyes glistened, reflecting a light back at me and my brothers as we held our discussions at the round kitchen table on No. 2 Albert Road.

When I think back so many ideas were flung across that table. My Dad and Uncle John would stay up and awake dawn with their heated conversations about Africa, literature, politics, the world’s economy and whatever else there was; whatever concepts there were that could assuage the woes of the world, staunch the corruption, impact the wars. I always felt safe – falling asleep upstairs to the sound of adults debating things I did not fully understand. The world was an exciting place, something to be puzzled on and worked through.

The kitchen table, covered in a cheese cloth with fruit patterns spread across it, was always laden with newspapers, the London TimeOut and a stack of books. Invariably more books will be retrieved from the shelf to bolster an argument. I don’t remember what I was saying to Uncle John when he asked me if I had heard of Martin Carter, but he rose from the table and got the clay-brown book that I would soon grow to cherish. The same book I would lend out, forget who I lent it to, never see again and pine for.

Sometimes I remember those languid days on Albert Road. My family and I would be visiting from Nigeria for a week or so, staying at No. 2, and Uncle John will hold court in the kitchen. Weak sunlight touching the glass doors that led into the garden. As children and as we grew older those conversations had more power over my brothers and I than the cartoons on television in the room next door. When Uncle John died I had not yet lent out Martin Carter’s Poems of Succession. After I heard the news, putting the phone back on the hook, I climbed out of bed and got the book off the shelf.

I Do Not Yet Know

Both sunrise and sunset have often been scarlet

and returning noontime so blue and so white

I do not yet know the name men have given

that fluttering yellow and ubiquitous butterfly

whose life is not long

but whose beauty is so startling

I don’t need the book back. We can’t bring Uncle John back or any of our dearest people that have passed on. We are left with both long and short days depending on ones mood and quiet portions of the night when all we have is darkness and a few lines of poetry. If we have lent out our poetry books and forgot who we lent them to, then all we have are the poems we had the foresight to memorise. Soft comfort.

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