World Town

by Shane Book



Entirely windless, today’s sea; of these waters’ many names
the best seemed “field-of-pearl-leaves,” for it smelled like the air
in the house he built entirely of doors: pink school door,
gold of the burnt hotel, two old church blues, the abandoned
bank’s steel doors singular and immovably wedged over
the family’s heads though as with everything corroding
the sense of themselves slipping away in the heat,
falling through the day’s brightness the way soldiers
once fell upon him walking home with a bucket of natural
water as he had been recalling the town square
before the tannery’s closing: he and his father shopping
on horseback in the noon Praça where they first saw
a man crouched under a black shroud, what his father called
a camera. His father forgot the incident immediately, but
for years the man asked whomever if they remembered
a camera, vegetable stalls, the butcher holder the cleaver,
a horseshoeing shop, purple berries, the long cassava valley haze,
fishnets, a few crab baskets and browning nets
drying by the ice cream shop, seven taverns,
a small, unused ferry terminal, a map on its wall outlining
the island in blue, the names Good Dispatch, Lover’s Bridge
pointed to by a mermaid of skin whiter than anyone
on this island of Angola’s descendants, her red hair.

Notes on the Poem

Many images in Shane Book's vibrant poem "World Town", from his 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection "Congotronic", leave lingering impressions. The poem opens with a vivid picture of a house built entirely of doors, a bright amalgam of elements that deepens in significance as you travel through the poem to the end ... and circle back again and again. Of what kinds of doors is the house composed? "pink school door, gold of the burnt hotel, two old church blues, the abandoned bank’s steel doors" The visual impression of the collection of colours and textures is arresting. The metaphorical weight of the types of doors is potent and multi-layered, ranging over places that signify life milestones, from childhood to midlife to death, institutions that can denote prosperity or poverty, and locations that capture the spiritual and the secular. As rich as all that is, though, these doors are holding in stagnant air and oppressing the house's occupants ... "doors singular and immovably wedged over the family’s heads" From Book's notes at the end of "Congotronic", we learn that the title of the poem is taken from a song title of the same name by English-Sri Lankan rapper and artist M.I.A. Intriguingly, the lyrics of the song include this chorus: "Yo, don't be calling me desperate When I'm knocking on the door Every wall you build I'll knock it down to the floor" Doors built into walls seem to form shelter, but they also confine (hold in) and create barriers (keep out or withhold). Between the two connected "World Town" pieces, doors run the symbolic gamut.

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