Sugar

This is my first post in a while, after a year of illness. It is a poem I have been working on for some time, which somehow seemed to come together today. It was originally intended as a companion piece to Honey, which I published on this blog last year.

 

Sugar

 

I Candy

It is mixed with jaggery and ghee,

rice flour, coconut and ground cardamom;

crystals glistening in the fatty sweet pink jewelry

of fleshy dessert. To finish off a banquet

with finesse

and ease the Maharajah’s bad digestion.

Sent on mule back across the Himalayas

to appease the Emperor of China.

 

II Canto

Sweet salt

crosses the Mediterranean

on Crusader ships,

alongside spices, arithmetic, iconoclasm,

bits and pieces of the True Cross,

and sweet rhyming paeans to distant ladies,

beloved, chaste and aloof.

 

III Canal

The Doges weigh up their books

and demand their pound of flesh.

Venice is tap and sewer,

sluice-gate and soda-stream.

Moors exalted and exploited,

All the treasures and pleasures

of the East sucked in

through the deviousness of a Mediterranean straw.

Gondoliers serenade the tourists,

punting pretty boats through foul-smelling waters.

as the gum of the land rots and subsides.

 

IV Canary

Keeping Christopher, like Circe, Dido and Ariadne,

from his mission for a while,

Beatrice offers the explorer a brief tour of paradise,

before purgatory and hell,

and sends him off westwards on the sea-lapped sand

with a farewell kiss

and few sprigs of sugar-cane.

 

V Cane

Sweet green grassy-tasting juice

sucked straight from the fiber through lost teeth.

It takes a torture machine to squeeze

the sweet sap from a broken cane

onto ice in a plastic cup, to be slurped

through a plastic straw.

And whips to bend the black sweating backs

of slaves armed with machetes

who cut the hardy stalks from dawn to dusk under wary eyes.

History at work.

Kids sell trimmed disks of the stuff

through bus windows threaded on sticks

for travelers to suck,

rushing their lumbering journey

through the crumbling red earth

of the sugar-ravaged landscape along.

 

VI Cannon

The ancient battleground

overlooking the airport,

where Dutch and Portuguese

did battle over plantations

and religious differences,

is as dumb and nondescript

as the whitewashed forts

erected to guard the shipping

arteries that bore the precious crystals

to the jams and jellies

brains and veins

of country houses faraway.

 

VII Cake

There is something sad about a cake.

The way its mixture of egg and flour,

ghee, glucose and yeast, once baked,

cannot be undone. Unless remembered

from the lapping of a wooden spoon

scooping unbaked cake from the emptied bowl.

There is something tragic about the way

eggs crack irrevocably against the rim

of a glass mixing bowl and all is stirred together,

along with wishes and dreams,

and fired in the oven, rising

fluffily for our pleasure

from immolation. A destruction

as worthy of our delectation

as Christ broken on the Cross. The scent

of cinnamony hot-cross buns on Easter Day.

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays come and go;

disturbing us more and more every year

with their harvest of gifts and the signs

we cannot outgrow.

 

VIII Can-Can

A cube of sugar soothes the bitterness

of the destroying absinthe

and the destruction that ensues.

It is part of the elaborate ritual

and intriguing paraphernalia

that accompany every self-destructive habit,

as surely as bawdy music, lewd dance routines,

and the imagined nectar of whores.

 

IX Can

Jam tomorrow, white sliced bread that never rots

smeared with margarine, meat stuffed in a can

that can last for centuries in a bunker or an abandoned

grocery store. Every knap-sack contains

a nicotine fix and a mint-cake sugar rush

for those about to die. “You’re my sugar,”

a teenage chanteuse coos tinnily through a gramophone

or transistor radio.

 

X Can-do

Spooning six small heaps into a cup of instant coffee,

newly obese war-babies have a beady eye out

for the pic n’ mix of Jelly babies, mini-Mars, liquorice sticks,

curly-wurlies and Turkish Delight. A psychedelic swirl of nostalgia

to come. Little colored sweets are left,

like purple hearts or acid tabs,

on the bannister

as a reward for kids getting to bed early. A day

not kicked off by sugar-coated breakfast cereal

and ended with pudding is a sign of poverty,

a source of shame.

A fat kid angrily kicks a vending machine,

pops a can of coke open,

and slurps it down, as if it were water.

 

XI Can’t

Doctors and nurses are forever telling

you what you can’t do. The list is long

and rattled off with the wagging of a petty

authoritarian finger, as you drench

the pants of your hospital pajamas

with candy-scented pee.

Advertisement