I knew from the beginning I would be including Kei Millar at some point, and given that he has now won the Forward Prize for best collection, what better time. The poem I have chosen takes an object as its focus, in this case zinc roofing (aka corrugated iron) and describes its role in the lives of poor of Kingston, Jamaica and beyond (it made me think of the importance of objects as symbols and metaphors of how people live). And in the poem he references Dawn’s Scott A Cultural Object and I urge you to look at it, as it helps visualise the images Kei Miller makes in his poem, This Zinc Roof.
Kei’s latest collection is The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion published by Carcanet.
I wonder what other objects you can think of that symbolise the lives of the working class (ones that move beyond clichés) and where have they appeared in poems?
This Zinc Roof
This rectangle of sea; this portion
Of ripple; this conductor of midday heat;
This that the cat steps delicately on;
This that the poor of the world look up to
On humid nights, as if it were a crumpled
Heaven they could be lifted into.
God’s mansion is made of many-coloured zinc,
Like a balmyard I once went to, Peace
And Love written across its breadth.
This clanging of feet and boots,
Men running from Babylon whose guns
Are drawn against the small measure
Of their lives; this galvanised sheet; this
Corrugated iron. The road to hell is fenced
On each side with zinc —
Just see Dawn Scott’s installation,
A Cultural Object, its circles of zinc
Like the flight path of johncrows.
The American penny is made from zinc,
Coated with copper, but still enough zinc
That a man who swallowed 425 coins died.
This that poisons us; this that holds
Its nails like a crucified Christ, but only
For a little while. It rises with the hurricane,
Sails in the wind, a flying guillotine.
This, a plate for our severed heads;
This that sprinkles rust
Over our sleep like obeah;
This that covers us; this that chokes us;
This, the only roof we could afford.
This Zinc Roof appeared in the Caribbean Review of Books, 2010