‘There, at the bend of the river’ and other poems by Maggie Harris

There, at the bend of the river

    at the bend of the river, I almost turned. I almost became the      
       b r o k e n    bough that floats, almost became a bride
         in the  l a c y   wake      almost borrowed the choir
           of incessant birds               almost forsook dry land
            for amniotic waters                      almost 
             didn’t board the taxi
             that led to the plane    that led to the city of deceit 
           and promise that would  neverthe less  
       enrich me with its tales and offer me lovers
to distract me.
I almost        would not have   borne
      these children   who make their mark like   r 
like  SonG                                               b
     birds &                                             o
           bees                                         w
           like batons passing    the     trail
    messages on their fingers like  d u s t. There, at the bend of 
    the river,      
 words would not have     a  l  i  g  h  t  e  d             
  like a passenger       
    on these still trembling chords     of my throat.

On watching a lemon sail the sea

and I’m singing ‘You are my sunshine’ thinking 
of my childhood across the sea of incubation
go Honey go
you self-contained cargo ship you
with your sealed citrus juices and pitted panacea of seeds
braving the collision of tankers and illicit submarines

              .they called me scurvy.       the lemonade
               my mother made was iced and sprinkled with
 (of course) 

and I’m wondering, did they grow you there, o lemon     mine            
for your juices
a lemon plantation, not to be confused with
a plantain plantation even a banana just don’t mention sugar
stack you in the gloom like hereto mentioned bananas
green and curtailed in their growing  or even
those force-ripe mangoes with girls’ names
nobody knows here and who leave their sweetness behind
bare-assed on the beaches
to the marketplace

I do not remember lemons, but limes.

    I         E
L                S.

Piled high in their abundance. Limes.
Acid green pyramids on market pavements
holding their secrets beneath their reptilian skins.

And there is my aunt, her arms thin as bamboo
gathering the fallen from the yard, sweeping
their dried leaves into the remembrance of herself
whilst the black maid slips slivers of lemon into a split
-bellied fish whose eyes glaze up at the sun.

‘Gauguin, you can come in now; remember Martinique ...?
hue the native in all her harnessed beauty
the slack –jawed fish, browning blood
the textured landscape in shades of  pawpaw and indigo.’
But, liming is what my lemon is doing now, 
(in the West Indian sense), hey ho
over the waves at Aberporth, there he blows.

I set you free  
to take to the sea again 
on a high tide, with breakers rushing the beach
like warriors.
They pummel the sand, scythe
a four foot chasm into the mouth
of a lonely river
beat the rocks’ submerged heads
batter the cliffs again 
                                  and again
                                         and again.
The sea, beyond its charge, was waiting -
a winter morning sea, a Twelfth Night sea
tumultuous and moody


A strange gift, you
a large, perfect lemon
fresh and sharp as the sun-bright
wind-cut winter’s day. But I
unsure of your heritage
refused you. 

Dear Voyager,
I cupped you
in my palm
desire urging my possession 
how easy it would be – a lemon drizzle cake
a Martini iced, an accompaniment
to plaice or sole – and here I am playing with words
the resonance of belonging, of immortality –
but the devil played tricks with my mind
an injection of poison perhaps, a needle prick
into your  pristine, nobbled skin – but we are running ahead here
thinking of cargo – you may simply have fallen from a Tesco
carrier bag whose owner, fearing a lonesome home-coming
went walking on these very sands contemplating - life.

But there you were anyway, settled on the sand like a crab
then comfortable in the palm of my hand.
Finders are not necessarily keepers. Some
will do well to remember that. Vixens
circling misunderstood husbands in bars. Frag
ments from the fallen.
Oh but, how strong is the desire
to hold close, keep tight
smother your darling, your little nut-baby
in soft gloves, hard love, the kind that makes
you want to bite, bite! Rip flesh and bone. Swallow.
                     I could have accepted
your sacrifice
that gift of yourself, thank the universe
for its’ benevolence.
But the universe is not benevolent.
Stars are exploding missiles in a panther-black night.
Saturn doesn’t give two fucks. It’s chaos
out there.
But I guess you didn’t have time
for star-gazing in your ocean-going lumbering
over the hey-ho waves. And if I had sunk my vampiric teeth
into the you of you, you would be no more 
than a bitter taste, a withering lump of citrus
on my kitchen table. Far better to remember you
the obsidian walnut weight of you
and these questions you have gifted me
and that last sight of you 
rolling away on the tide.

On speaking of the individuation of things

That waves are not separate from the sea
or the sea from the shore or the shells crushed under your naked feet
or their fossilised brothers cemented into the cliffs
or this passage between my palm and your return to waters
heavy in their journeying with the plastic of our generation
and the wanting whatever is in or out of season.
That the lemon too is a bastard child, an indeterminate childling 
of citron, its mother-father sacredly revered, and closeted in its 
perfection from Yemen to Israel, from synagogue to supermarket
from EU label to post-Brexit. Segment by segment
they are seeking to reclaim the discovery of self.

Cross the black waters now and you will meet yourself returning
with all those others braving the oceans. 
Jonah will be there, and King Nebuchardnezzar
requesting the interpretation of his dream
and Daniel will still be explaining the city of clay
to anyone who will listen.

Maggie Harris is a Guyanese writer living in the UK. She has twice won The Guyana Prize for Literature and was Regional Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story prize 2014, with Sending for Chantal.
She has worked for Kent Arts and Libraries, Kent University and Southampton University as International Teaching Fellow.

Maggie Harris