Editor’s Choice 6

Cherangani by Mark Carson

Experience may be Mark Carson’s raw material – Ireland, life as an ocean engineer, Africa – but the essence of his writing is an intelligence and optimism which offers an easy-going eloquence and sensitivity. The relaxed readability of his poems can, though, be deceptive. At ease in their narratives you may be, but at the same time aware something rich, fresh and unexpected is happening or about to happen. His language and imagery is always rewarding, ‘serving up portmanteaus and unexpected conjunctions aplenty’              ( Simon Zonenblick, Sabotage). For example, here’s the poem ‘Cherangani’ :


They were there when we wakened
in the first light as we thought it
as the bell birds called in the thorn scrub
and the mists dissipated
and the handsome black and yellow ticks
shouldered their way up the grass stems
to the very tip
shoving each other
for the most advantageous station
and the drybush kingfisher
killed its first early chafer
crunchingly by our bare heels
and the strange hybrid cornflakes
rustled in milk from the coolbox
and the orange juice, ah the orange juice
gurgled in the grateful throat
and they were getting closer
and the first soufria of water
boiled on the little blue stove
decanted onto the roasted coffee
bringing a rush of optimism
and the crusty rolls and marmalade
and now they were really quite close
shy but forward and we could see
the dull gleam of her neckrings
and the colour gash of her beads
and her little ones giggled
at the fair voluminous curls of our little ones
and shy still she wanted
wanted something, she couldn’t say what
she wanted, she couldn’t say in English or Swahili
or anything
it wasn’t food or drink she intimated but
yes it was the empty del Monte can
the top cut out she could see
she could tell it was empty
empty, an empty can for putting things in
for putting water in
and I took the light ballpeen hammer I always carried
and skilfully hammered the edge smooth and dimpled
and fixed a piece of bullwire as a handle.
And the sun rose in the Kerio Valley
and warmed our backs kindly
as we set off homeward
to the urbane pleasures of the city.

What I love about this poem is the apparently leisurely way it unfolds itself, engaging me totally all the way. I’m immediately hooked in to the narrative with that first line, but then taken elsewhere with detailed and delicious descriptions of the morning, its insects and birds, the breakfast rituals, before once again ‘they’ appear ‘getting closer’ as if the poem’s reassuring me as a reader we will get there in the end but meanwhile there’s no rush; just like the morning itself, it’s there to be enjoyed. And so we continue and ‘they’ get ‘quite close’ and we are finally introduced and follow the understated mime of this cross-cultural interaction, with the surprise of the empty can being refashioned.

I also enjoy the way punctuation is dispensed with and the line lengths and breaks do all the work so eloquently. And throughout, the open-hearted writing sticks to the focus of our common humanity with only the slightly ambiguous irony of ‘the urbane pleasures of the city’ making a nod, perhaps, towards any social/political perspective. No more is needed. It’s in the can.





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