21 Days/ 21 Poems: The Poem That Made Me Decide to Become a Poet
For the Last Time, Fire
That August the birds kept away from the village, afraid:
people were hungry.
The phoenix hid at the sun’s center and stared down
at the Banker’s house,
which was plump and factual, like zero.
Every good Banker knows
there’s no such bird.
She came to the house like an old cat, wanting
a different kind of labor.
But the Banker was busy, feeding his dogs, who were nervous,
Perhaps she looked dangerous.
The child threshed in her belly
when she fell. The womb cracked, slack lipped,
leaving a slight trace of blood on the lawn. Delicately,
the phoenix placed the last straw on its nest.
Mrs. So-and-So the Banker’s wife beat time
in her withdrawing room. Walked her moods
among the fluted teacups, toying with crusted foods.
The house hummed Bach, arithmetic at rest.
The phoenix sang along with the record,
But the villagers counted heads, and got up.
So, logical as that spiral worming the disc to a hole in
one night there were visitors, carrying fire. The dogs
then they gutted everything.
Something shook itself out of the ash.
“For the Last Time, Fire” by Dennis Scott. Uncle Time. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.
“The house hummed Bach, arithmetic at rest.” There was always something magical about this poem that I’ve never been able to shake. The combination of social engagement, myth, allusions to contemporary literature, and the ironies--all in a few lines. This poem was a standout in Dennis Scott’s Uncle Time and has been a major influence on my own work. After reading this poem, I wanted to be a poet. I wanted to create something as beautiful, as musical as this poem…
Dennis Scott was born in Jamaica in 1939. He had a distinguished career as a poet, playwright, actor (he was Lester Tibideaux in The Cosby Show), dancer in the Jamaican National Dance Theatre, an editor of Caribbean Quarterly and teacher. His first collection, Uncle Time (1973) was one of the first to establish the absolutely serious use of nation language in lyric poetry. His other poetry collections include Dreadwalk (1982) and Strategies (1989). His plays include Terminus, Dog, Echo in the Bone, and Scott’s work is acknowledged as one of the major influences on the direction of Caribbean theatre. He died at the early age of fifty-one in 1991.
Dennis Scott: Dennis Scott Biography - (1939 –91), Caribbean Quarterly.