Guanahani, 11

like the beginnings — o odales o adagios — of islands

from under the clouds where I write the first poem

 

its brown warmth now that we recognize them

even from this thunder’s distance

 

still w/out sound. so much hope

now around the heart of lightning that I begin to weep

 

w/such happiness of familiar landscap

such genius of colour. shape of bay. headland

 

the dark moors of the mountain

ranges. a door opening in the sky

 

right down into these new blues & sleeping yellows

greens. like a mother’s

 

embrace like a lover’s

enclosure. like schools

 

of fish migrating towards homeland. into the bright

light of xpectation. birth

 

of these long roads along the edge of Eleuthera

now sinking into its memory behind us

“Guanahani, 11” by Kamau Brathwaite from Born to Slow Horses (Wesleyan University Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Kamau Brathwaite and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Dive in 
  1. The word “odales” much like “xpectation“ and “landscap” is a neologism (made-up/new word) or portmanteaux that combines “oh” and “dales” (meaning valley) but ellipses the “h” for musical effect. What other effects do the poem’s use of sound, spelling and rhythm create?
  2. What role does punctuation play in the poem’s use of sound and rhythm?
  3. The poem’s imagery repeatedly asks the reader to either look up or look down, and finally look back. Think of ways this motion might make you think differently about spaces that are important in your own life.
  4. How do the poem’s line breaks shape your reading of the poem? Try reading the poem again but pretend it is written using tercets (stanzas of three lines) and see whether you notice any differences in emphasis.
  5. If you were to recite this poem, where would you create silences?
  6. Think of a place that means a lot to you. This may be a favourite vacation spot or a lake or somewhere near or far. Write three couplets that reveal something you want someone else to know about the place. Create at least one portmanteaux in the poem.

Useful Links

Information on Guanahani: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/oct12/columbus-makes-landfall...

Watch Brathwaite read from Born to Slow Horses, the book that “Guanahani, 11” is taken from, at the 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbHQAK2J7NA