A Dream of Fire / christian campbell


It start like a dark calypso:
Man think Woman scheming on Man.
Man spit gasoline on Woman
and fling a match.
Woman run and everything done.

To light match in a straw market,
most things catch: straw dolls, Hey Mon
T-shirts, African statues made in Japan,
daishikis, trinkets, straw hats, Androsia
dresses, knock-off Gucci bags, floral sarongs,
the cries of Prettygirl and Walcott poems.

The braiders would spider
hair and recite “The Schooner Flight
for $20, one bead per line.
But now the people are laughing
or crying and all we see is one red man
running out of the blaze. Out of the fire
bust open like dawn.

These heavy women with huge hands,
hats, and long skirts, these straw vendors,
would plait straw tighter than sonnets and hustle
Walcott poems on the side. In the dream
they shake their gray-heads at the howl
of fire. A bird, a sea-swift, might think
it Soufriere. But it’s just a burning market.


Walcott is safe, thank God, no longer
limps. Poems gone, poems gone.
But he knows them all by heart,
like the braiders. Poems gone,
he sucks his teeth and grumbles:
History. First time in Nassau,
last stop on the schooner Flight,
he paints the market skanking down
in flames, cigarette painting smoke,
too, from his mouth.

He paints one of the braiders
knitting my hair, diamond style:
Open the map. More islands there, man,
than peas on a tin plate, all different size,
one thousand in the Bahamas alone. . .

A big-belly man is making
fritters to sell, so I don’t smell
poems burning. Only oil, batter,
bubbling conch.

Smoke barrels up like music.
The singed straw dolls lip-synch
Arrow: Olé Olé, Olé Olé. . .
and ya room-boom-boom-boom

(and for once the old man dance).

Bay Street burns like the sixties, like 1942.
Funky Nassau. There is no place like this.
Armagiddeon or obeah, only us.
Everyone knows what we like:
we like pretty. So what matters in the dream,
the scrap gangs running to catch ashes
for new costumes and how beautiful
Bay Street will look
with a whole other mouth.


Christian Campbell is the author of Running the Dusk, which was a finalist for the Cave Canem Prize and is currently shortlisted for the 2010 Forward Poetry Prize for the Best First Book in the UK, and a recipient of a Lannan Residency Fellowship. He teaches at the University of Toronto.

”A Dream of Fire” was previously published in Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters.

All poems are published in Running the Dusk (Peepal Tree, 2010)