English poetry

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GAUGUIN IN THE SOUTH SEAS

GAUGUIN IN THE SOUTH SEAS

They have my own fear of the dark,

Tupapau – spirits of the dead they call it;

Returning late with oil I found fear of it

Had spread my vabine naked on the bed.

Manao-Taipapau means ‘she thinks of the spectre’

Or ‘the spectre is thinking of her’, either way

She is afraid; I marvel at a tongue so readily ambiguous,

Lying across her forked thigh.

I buy rum for her ‘many parents’, for her

One cheap dress a month suffices; in return

She gathers fish and wild-fruit from the blue

Mountain groves where no white man walks.

Once when I fished from the long canoes

A fish caught the hook in its lower jaw, laughing

I learnt this meant my vahine was unfaithful :

She answered ‘Beat me’ but I lay down by her side.

I bathe in ‘the stream of life’, naked to offend

The priestly beetles – Cezanne’s ‘red shout’ indeed.

Waiting for mail I accumulate bills, pictures and sores

Side by side, lying down alone in the dark.



Poem GAUGUIN IN THE SOUTH SEAS - Barry Tebb