“The Sugar Clock” by Cynthia James
This setting back and forwarding
the clock, lengthening and shortening time,
is not in my experience
I learned and laboured under one timepiece,
the sugar clock, somewhere near the great house
deep in the crevice of my ear still going strong
the wailing ICTA horn blaring at five to seven, five to twelve and five to four;
more than a century of wailing - (1820s to 1921 - estate,
usine - plantation time seems distant!)
when to pick up tools, when to lay them down and when to lunch -
I have no picture of this timepiece, no sense of what it was,
but in the bowel of the you-we sugar factory, sure it was!
Some say ‘twas pressured steam, but in my mind
it was a round alarm with finger lever, iron, brass or shiny silver,
nippled like the cycle bell Works workers rode out, clicking after it went off.
Who pulled it? Or was it automatic?
Did its wail wind round the campus weekends, too, when I was gone?
Or did absentee hands run round its face invisibly
like on these fancy modern digitals?
Halfway between a warning and rebellion
sometimes it sounded like a conch! but no, it was no conch,
or else I’d seen a Maroon man, built say like the Orisha Andrew,
master drummer, going in and out.
I moved in step with it, shell shocked.
Who turned it off? And when?
Did its sly slumbering regime rankle you-we historians?
Who knows the what and why, the grip of memory?
Oriens Ex Occidente Lux
Did it shut off on its accord when the steam engine rusted?
When did it cease to be that relic of “the bulwark that we watch” way south?
©Cynthia James 2012
Cynthia James is a Trinidadian, living for the past 3 years in Toronto. She writes poetry and fiction and her work can be found in publications such as Callaloo, Caribbean Writer and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse.
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