Poem #23: Brief Lives by Olive Senior


Olive Senior, born in 1941, is a Jamaican poet and short story writer.  Today’s poem is from  Gardening in the Tropics, an amazing collection of poetry. Enjoy.

Brief Lives

Gardening in the Tropics, you never know
what you’ll turn up. Quite often, bones.
In some places they say when volcanoes
erupt, they spew out dense and monumental
as stones the skulls of desaparecidos
— the disappeared ones. Mine is only
a kitchen garden so I unearth just
occasional skeletons. The latest
was of a young man from the country who
lost his way and crossed the invisible
boundary into rival political territory.
I buried him again so he can carry on
growing. Our cemeteries are thriving too.
The latest addition was the drug baron
wiped out in territorial competition
who had this stunning funeral
complete with twenty-one-gun salute
and attended by everyone, especially
the young girls famed for the vivacity
of their dress, their short skirts and
even briefer lives.



  1. death but a metaphor
    of brief lives and beyond
    in fertile soil
    some better souls
    tenderly re turned
    to reap, flower
    to be remembered
    the rest
    in the cemetry
    where the ceremony
    is as futile
    as their lives

    (so many layers, i love it!)


  2. Wow, what a moving poem. It is sad, yet not sad. It talks of death and skeletons, but it gives it the air of an everyday occurrence which makes it not so much sad as chilling.


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