Guabancex — Celia A Sorhaindo
Papillote Press, 2020 £6.50
Guabancex ‘explores the complex mix of experiences and emotions’ that erupted when (and after) Hurricane Maria ripped through the island of Dominica on 18th September 2017. Its title invokes the indigenous Taíno’s ‘supreme female spiritual entity associated with all natural destructive forces’. What stands out most for me is the way the poet both calls in and questions religious faith in the face of carnage.
We see some of Guabancex’s invasive work in ‘Hypotonic’, where ‘not one of us understood / how the water got into the / sealed places that she did’.
The idea of a female god is also flipped on its head in ‘Myremecology’ (the study of ants), where the poet depicts herself as the god of a colony of ‘elegantly corseted’ ants:
I don’t know why, but an almighty
rage reared up and I sprayed the life out of the whole clattering colony with Baygon.
While the gods wield enormous power, they are also questioned. For example, in ‘In The Air’, we meet the poet’s grandmother 'hunkered down, [ ... ] knees raw with prayer’. But later, in a biblical reference, we see how
No one appeared to conjure and divide
loaves and fishes between some people.
There’s a strong sense of duality running through this collection, never more so than in the final poem, ‘Hurricane PraXis (Xorcising Maria Xperience)’, where we see a series of call and response lines that seem to contradict each other as they proceed:
we thank god constantly for sparing our lives we stop believing in god
we stop asking questions
we become more faithful we become more faith-less
I’m writing this as Storms Ciara and Dennis sweep the UK. Behind my double-glazing, I’m unlikely to be devastated by the destruction that can be wrought by nature, but behind my eyes when I read these poems, I can empathise. Some of the words from ‘Hurricane PraXis’ echo my own feelings:
wholly changed unchanged