“Sugar” – Poem by Guyanese Poet Ruel Johnson

Three Worlds One Vision

East Indian Cane Cutter - Guyana - Photo by John Gimlette

East Indian Cane cutter – Guyana
Photo by John Gimlette (2013)

In honor of Guyana’s fiftieth Independence anniversary on May 26th, my Poetry Corner April 2016 features an excerpt from the poem “Sugar” by Guyanese poet and award-winning short story writer Ruel Johnson. His work largely focuses on social and political issues facing Guyana. In the long, multi-sectional featured poem, he addresses the legacy of colonialism on the enduring divide between the two major ethnic populations: the descendants of African slaves and East Indian indentured laborers.

In section 1—stalk, Johnson recalls his boyhood days growing up in the capital. Sugarcane was a sweet treat. His imagery of his mother whacking the stalk along the joints with her best knife takes us into the canefields. The sweet juice comes at a great price.

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  • ndtewarie  On 04/05/2016 at 10:37 am

    Fo-day manin -cack a crow
    And he know he gat to go
    And all he gat is e sharp twenty-two
    And e food-carrier so shiny and new

    Today is had wok this whole munth
    Today we gat to full all dem punt
    At break-time me tek a lil smoke
    And Kadwah guh crak a joke

    And then the dam lead- han’
    Playing lek some white man
    Sometimes behave like a real jerk
    Come and chase us back to work

    Buddy-by how me bones ah ache Oh Gad!
    If when Haray Ram tek me now, me glad
    Only Ram keep me going as I chant me bhajan
    Today, I hope me wife cook hassar and sigan

    The cane-cutter tek his roti from he carrier-dish
    He is thinking of his last daughter’s only wish
    To save ebry las cent of he salary
    To pay for her damn big dowry

    Po gyal na know fuh wat in store
    But agat to let me baby go fuh sure
    Oh Gad! Now I can hardly bend
    When does all dis hadship end

    The cane cutter goes home at sunset
    Gat to hurry so he wifey don’t fret
    Still gat sum tumatee to plant
    So tired no matta how he cant

    Fatnight coming and its pay day
    Gat to tek a lil finey this Friday
    Shoot some crap wid Kak, Bud and Lulluby
    And Pum-pak to dance wen he get lil groggy

    Betta read yuh book get some larning
    You can’t last wid this cane cutting
    You cut, fetch and full punt in de sun or rain
    Come Munday and it’s back to cutting cane

    Pickney ah tell yuh dis life is haad
    Dis is nat cricket or playing cyad
    Yuh wuk till yuh get haad calluses all ova
    And de bakrah neva say thanks, son-of-a

    The cane-cutter is one of those dying breed
    These pioneers‘ve fused the Guyanese seed
    Metal intact, they raked and did scrape
    And eventually changed the landscape


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