- Autumn 2010
- ISBN 978-1-55380-106-1
- ebook ISBN 978-1-55380-118-4
- 6″ x 9″ Trade Paperback, 100 pages
This collection of poems takes us on a journey — a very personal journey of Pamela Porter’s own — to Africa and South America, those corners of the world the news reports never seem to cover: to Angola’s thirty-year-long civil war, a landscape overrun with poverty, AIDS, and infant mortality; and to the struggles of ordinary people still haunted by the past horrors of Argentina’s “dirty war.”
With language deceptively simple, filled with music, colour and rich detail, Porter writes with grace and compassion, making a fierce beauty from all she sees, celebrating the resilience of the poor and oppressed, who nonetheless remain determined to live their lives with dignity and with joy.
Winner of the Governor General’s Award for The Crazy Man, Pamela Porter has given us another book to treasure, one that takes us into the heart of what it means to be a human being on this earth.
“Porter’s poems are pervaded with a sense of grace, of mercy, beauty and benediction.”
— M. Travis Lane
Photograph of Earth from Space
On the outskirts of Luanda, Angola,
Gerald Nduma has walked an hour to school
carrying his chair, which is really
an empty coffee can. Nine years old,
he holds in his other hand a mango,
which will be his lunch. At school,
which is really a tree, Gerald
places his lunch beneath his chair.
This day, a missionary has come
with magazines. Gerald takes what
is given him. Soon he does not hear
his teacher’s instructions. He does not hear
the students’ chatter. He is looking
at the photograph of Earth
floating in a dark sea
which Gerald imagines
is plenteous with fish.
Happiness in Ghana
The morning is a new egg.
Roosters cannot keep the secret.
Not yet sunrise,
lizards go about their business
scraping walls with their little nails.
Already in the dark, a child with braids
erupting like fountains all over her head
brushes her teeth in the next yard.
Women and girls will load up their heads
and walk and walk to the centre of town,
the street thickening with the scent
of pineapple and sewage.
We rub our eyes. Sun is rising.
All night water has trickled into the tank;
time to start the motor, pump water
up to the tank that sits like a hat
on the roof of our house.
The child with clean teeth helps her mother,
a sandal seller, fill a tub with sandals. Crammed
like crayons in their box, the sandals might
bear names on their thin sides: Tomato. Papaya.
Sky. Moonrise and Murky Dawn.
The motor growls like a lion.
Our children crane their necks like lizards,
sun gleaming their eyes.
As the woman raises her tub arm’s length
over her head, the water tank overflows,
a sudden rainstorm. The children squeal
and jump. They must tell Thomas, who has arrived
pushing his motorbike, delivering a crate
of pop in bottles. The bottles dance.
The woman with sandals on her head
starts down the road, but she walks too close
to the wall; all we see is a tub of colours washing by.
Then comes a display case laden with pastries;
later, a sewing machine, toothbrushes
and toothpaste: tub of dental hygiene.
While he’s here, Thomas will iron the pyjamas.
Tonight the two pink children
will go to bed clean and crisp. No matter
that they’ll wake rumpled
from sleeping in the night’s open mouth,
from dreams of home. The women
will wake again before dawn,
balancing the day on their heads.
Peppers: Living in Ghana
If the truck does not start, if it
ignores you as though asleep,
lift the hood,
pluck out the yellow wire
and scrape it against the battery.
you will wake the car.
a man with pants torn to the knees
arrives to coerce water out of buckets
and onto the plants. He tips
the bucket, nudges water with his hands
as one might urge a child to play.
we have flowers; we have peppers
which the young watchman, Anthony,
hands us in his exhausted cup —
breakfast, red as stoplights.
He imagines us wanting without peppers.
Beatrice, elegant girl
with a short wool of hair, gold
in her ears shining like moons
and shoes roomy as canoes,
shyly rattles our door
and finds us sweating into our hot chocolate,
peppers blooming on the table.
Cecilia, who aches for earrings, rushes out
with Beatrice into a river of school uniforms
and the sharp snag of bell.
In Africa’s denominations
she calls attention in her translucent skin,
a continent of hair
plunging down the map of her back.
Children call her; women
bring babies to see her, rare
and blushing as ripening fruit.
Our son desires merely
the habit of parents,
wants neither bumpy blackboards
nor desks risky with splinters.
He hides under his hat, face
bright as a pepper.
But the fruits that sting his eyes
hold seeds of good luck.
He tastes the air.
He chews on Africa.
Dusty sandals slapped to his feet,
he scales the seat of the truck — dead-still, asleep.
Anthony leans into the gate that groans
with the weight of a new day
already old as centuries.
Packed elbow to elbow on unruly springs,
we hold our breath.
Tail lights fire.
Luck smiles on us.
The truck clears its throat, then sings.
Ronsdale Books by Pamela Porter:
Reviews and Awards
Finalist! Pat Lowther Memorial Award 2011
“The first thing to admire in Cathedral is the poetry itself. Porter’s lines are direct, clear, narrative in intent, yet embedded with dazzling imagery that brings scenes fully alive.”
— Canadian bookseller
“The photograph on the cover of Cathedral is a fitting image for Pamela Porter’s soulful poems of praise to the vivid and exquisite details of day-to-day. In the first poem in this beautifully crafted collection, “Photograph of Earth from Space,” a poet’s powerful eye sees a nine-year-old boy carrying an empty coffee can and a mango to a tree where he will sit with a missionary who shows him magazines. … How wondrous is the pure simplicity of this poet’s words to tell a story rich, yet with so few words.”
— Story Circle Book Reviews