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MARK
McWATT
Lives traded
for gain
more ever more
spreading pain.
No penance
enough.

HAIKU POEM
ROSALIENE BACCHUS

At first my spirit revolted against the place,
its physical assaults: the heat, the smell,
the mould-begetting damp, and all those creatures
that crawl under my skin to sting, or
bloom into red rashes and pustules,
itching souvenirs of the
triste tropiques...
Yet all these were not as burdensome
as that mental blight I brought with me from
France: the unshriven guilt of fratricide
weighed like a heavy seal upon my spirit which,
according to my beliefs and calculations,
I had already bequeathed to the devil...

But it is strange how the daily routine
and the necessary transactions of ordinary living
can anaesthetize hurt and cover the deepest scars
so that one becomes a familiar, harmless presence
to neighbours and others - if not yet to the self.
As I served more time I learnt to embrace
the spirit to this devil of a place, and especially
the business of plantations that produced
the world's sweetest substance
from its most bitter cruelties. As a slave
to my sinful act, I considered my own fate worse
than that of the plantation slaves, despite
the whip, the withering word, the wild caprice
of men like me who conspired to make
the system profitable... the slaves were free
from guilt and I could never be.

I learnt the business well, believing in
the natural ascendancy of my race and
the entitlement to status and comfort that
not even the unlawful killing of a brother
could erase. I acquired what the world calls wealth;
I invested in my own plantations, distinguishing
them with the names I chose, through which
to channel my lifelong guilt and grief:
La Penitence
and Le Repentir: names that I bequeath like scars
to be worn forever on this soft earth, to signify
a sorrow without relief... My plantation of grief.


Poem from The Journey to Le Repentir by Mark McWatt,
Peepal Tree Press Ltd., United Kingdom, 2009.

Approaching Le Repentir II
Plantation of Grief
Mark McWatt
PENANCE
MARK McWATT, poet
and fiction writer, was
born in Guyana in
1947. After obtaining
his first degree at
the University of
Toronto, he went to
Leeds University to
complete a Ph.D. He
of the University of
the West Indies in
Barbados until his
retirement as Head
of the English
Department.

He has published two
collections of poetry,
Interiors (1989) and
The Language of
Eldorado
(1994) that
won the Guyana
Prize.

Widely published in
journals on
Caribbean literature,
he is also joint editor
of the
Oxford Book of
Caribbean Verse

(2005).

His collection of short
stories,
Suspended
Sentences: Fictions
of Atonement
, won
the overall best first
book Commonwealth
Writers Prize in 2006.

The narrative sequence at the heart of the final section of the
book, "Le Repentir", concerns the story of Pierre Louis De
Saffon (1724-1784), a Frenchman who accidentally killed
his brother in a duel and ended up in exile in Demerara. He
eventually purchased two sugar plantations which he named
La Penitence and Le Repentir to signify his guilt and penance
for his sin of fratricide. Part of Le Repentir plantation became
(appropriately?) the main cemetery of the city of
Georgetown.
EXCERPT FROM THE INTRODUCTION BY MARK McWATT TO HIS POETRY
COLLECTION,
THE JOURNEY TO LE REPENTIR, PEEPAL TREE PRESS LTD., UK,
2009.
SO MUCH TROUBLE
IN THE WORLD
BOB MARLEY
1999

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