‘Death Came to See Me in Hot-Pink Pants’

Jamaica Gleaner - - YL: FEATURE - BERYL CLARKE Con­trib­u­tor Beryl Clarke is an in­de­pen­dent con­trib­u­tor. Send ques­tions and com­ments to kerry-ann.hep­burn@glean­erjm.com

“The tragedy of ed­u­ca­tion is not lack of brain power, but do­ing so lit­tle with what we have.”

PLEASE DON’T let the above be said in ref­er­ence to you. In this week’s ‘class’ we are go­ing to con­tinue our work on po­etry. Dr Heather Royes, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and poet, penned an in­trigu­ing work ti­tled Death Came to see me in Hot-Pink Pants. Wow! What a ti­tle. You must have been cu­ri­ous to find out about a poem with such a ti­tle. I know I was. I wanted to find out how some­thing usu­ally seen as fright­en­ing could be de­scribed as wear­ing pink and not just any pink but ‘hot’ pink. So, from the out­set, from the very ti­tle, we are pre­sented with the idea that death can be made to ap­pear fas­ci­nat­ing.

Now, if you have not yet read this poem, please do so be­fore read­ing any more of this les­son. Then read it again. When you have done so, I want you to con­sider the ti­tle. First, we are told by the speaker that he/she had re­ceived a visit from Death. Alarm­ing to say the least! For, to be vis­ited by an en­tity that takes away life and from which one can­not escape is not a pleas­ant nor nor­mally a longed-for ex­pe­ri­ence. Wait a minute – we are then told that Death is at­trac­tively dressed. Did you just ex­claim “Hot­ness!”

Do you know the word strut, as in con­fi­dent way of mov­ing? Dressed in bright pink pants – and we know it was bright be­cause of the word hot at­tached to it – we can imag­ine that this man, Death, walked with a swag­ger. Of course, you are also aware that hot can be ex­tended to de­scribe Death’s at­trac­tive phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance. So, from the ti­tle we have learnt that Death, that force that is con­sid­ered an en­emy of most hu­man be­ings, can be seen as al­lur­ing or, more ac­cu­rately, pleas­ingly pack­aged. Here is some­thing that I would like you to think about be­fore pro­ceed­ing. Can Death be so pleas­ingly pack­aged that one wel­comes it?

Ev­ery­one has dreams. The open­ing state­ment of this poem re­peats the ti­tle and adds ‘and

match­ing waist­coat too.’ This ar­ti­cle of dress is a close-fit­ting, waist-length gar­ment, usu­ally both sleeve­less and col­lar­less, but­toned down the front, worn espe­cially by men over a shirt and un­der a jacket. It is, as I’m sure you know, worn over a shirt but not nec­es­sar­ily un­der a jacket, un­less the oc­ca­sion is for­mal. It does add to a man’s ap­pear­ance. By the way, I know that women wear waist­coats/vests too. It just happened that on the day I was writ­ing this les­son, some young women vis­ited me. Their opin­ion is that a waist­coat adds some­thing to a man, that they called ‘sass’, ‘class’ or ‘piz­zaz’. The feel­ing is that a man wear­ing a waist­coat shows that he cares about his ap­pear­ance and wishes to be ac­cepted as such.

Then we learn that he is so hand­some that he is beau­ti­ful, and is a sweet boy, a ‘player’, one given to hav­ing fun. Up to this point in the poem, we are given the type of de­scrip­tion of this char­ac­ter’s ap­pear­ance that is in con­flict with our per­ceived no­tion of him.

The fol­low­ing line, how­ever, makes us think that he is show­ing his true colours. For what can we un­der­stand from ‘Forc­ing open the small door of my wooden cage’ but that Death does not wait for an in­vi­ta­tion. It goes where it wills. The use of force must have ini­tially, at least, fright­ened the per­sona. Any­one would be fright­ened to have one’s house or room door forced open. We have to think about the speaker’s use of the words ‘my wooden cage’. Are we hear­ing that the speaker lived in a small board house? Is it that the speaker’s cir­cum­stances are hard and dif­fi­cult, lack­ing in lux­ury and per­haps even ba­sic ameni­ties, or that the per­son is con­fined by oth­ers, hav­ing no free­dom? Any or all of the above would have an impact on how this vis­i­tor is re­ceived. Un­til our next ‘class’, re­flect on the above. God bless!

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