Civil Service

By COLIN CHANNER
A man-boy of nearly twenty,
slave-dressing in pantaloons
in 1930, slowly reads a Gleaner
from behind a stocky “German”
woman in a fabric shop.
Finds himself in love.
Walking home, feet adding shine-ness
to a track cut out of scrub,
he hugs the parcel of organdy
that his mother took on trust,
sounds each word the way he did
at first reading, lips moving,
voice too shy to read inside
his head alone.
Above,
birds form an arrow.
Around,
insects hustle-bustle,
get on with the gnawing,
digging, scraping, the noise-making
of their work.
Ahead,
green mountains gallop
left to right, unbroken herd.
Civil service, says
our young romantic
over and over again.
Maybe where you go
to be a civilize
and not no cunumunu,
as Miss Lady styled him
when she dressed him down
for reading out her paper,
eye-raping her neck-back.
But it’s an error that I live off,
this man-boy’s misread,
a blunder he compounded
as he clambered into
walks of guavas, figs
and pomegranates,
fruits with no owner,
taking steeper slopes
toward the ridge his kin
had come to after
getting their free paper,
dug their yam hills,
planted roots.
A better reader
would have gotten
hired by the Royal Mail.
But which colonial system
could afford to waste a fellow
like grandad:
obedient, simple-minded,
burly, color struck.
They couldn’t trust him
with an envelope. They
issued him a gun.

 

Colin Channer’s many books of prose include the novella The Girl with the Golden Shoes and the novel Waiting in Vain. His first poetry collection,  Providential, is out this fall; his work was the subject of The Common’s online June poetry feature. 

[Purchase your copy of Issue 10 here.]

Civil Service

Related Posts

Image of the book cover of The Morning Line, featuring a man wearing a hat.

September 2021 Poetry Feature: David Lehman’s The Morning Line

DAVID LEHMAN
You can pick horses on the basis of their names / and gloat when Justify wins racing’s Triple Crown / or when, in 1975, crowd favorite Ruffian, “queen / of the century,” goes undefeated until she breaks down / in a match race with Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.

Bogota

Translation: Poems by María Paz Guerrero

MARÍA PAZ GUERRERO
Time fills with holes / and puts the scarce body / into one of them // It covers its skeleton of wind / so the current / doesn’t rub against its prickly outside // The air would split into smithereens / if it were touched by the spines // It doesn’t seek to become cuts on the cheek