The Ship Carvers

I wandered down the dusty sun-dried streets;
paint peeled like skin. Verandas lurched and swayed
like drunks, upheld by women at the door,
lest they should fall and bring the washing down.
Lianas spanned the gaps with easy grace,
while flaunting torrid colours, reds and blues,
amongst the faded skirts. Some kiskadees,
consuming lice, fell silent as I passed.

Beyond this squalor stood a house on stilts,
whose shadow blocked the unforgiving sun
to shade a boy intent on whittling wood.
His gap-toothed grin invited me to pause
and watch, for in the shadows others lazed
with wood between their knees or on their laps
and carved, releasing shapes that leapt in flight
before a sultry wind. A sloop was born
that day; each member of this family,
according to his skill with whetted knife,
unmade the crooked grain of hardship’s toil
and shaved the sullen wood till sails unfurled.

I turned, retracing steps to tourist haunts,
where people haggle for their souvenirs
with misanthropic meanness, ‘spite of means,
before re-boarding well-heeled sailing ships
to cross the gulf, and set a course for home,
resuming crooked paths of venal gain,
their sloops becalmed upon the mantelshelf.

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