There’s an elegiac feel to this collection and not just because of the sequence “Elegies”. The opening section of “Continental Shelf”revisits Fred D’Aguiar’s Guyanese childhood with the benefit of memory and maturity layering the poems with sensual detail. The poems aren’t as energetic as previously but better for their measured tone.
Fred D’Aguiar teaches at Virginia Tech State University, where one student killed 32 people before turning his gun on himself on 16 April 2007. “Elegies” is a sequence that explores that event, “While those sirens keep building a wedding cake of sound./ I know there is more. I slice open the door to my office/ To find the decorated girl gone and no one else around.// I zoom back to the Web for any news of what’s going on/ In my immediate vicinity, since I cannot trust the song// And dance of my senses. Then I hear a loudspeaker/ Asking everyone to remain indoors and stay away/ From windows and I know for sure it’s a shooter…” as someone on campus but not directly caught up in the action, relying on web news to keep up with events.
The sequence also picks up the aftermath, that meandering feeling of the world being very different yet ordinary life having to continue as staff have to teach grief-stricken students whilst mourning and thinking about whether they should have picked up any early warning signs and preventing the tragedy occurring, “…The whole story remains ever present,// Charts and ever changing feeling/ for events of that Poetry Month Monday./ Imagine a trowel smoothing concrete// Adding to those layers and smoothing/ A thicker and thicker wall, well, that’s how/ The lyric builds meaning in a deepening circle,// Except the concrete never dries/ And the worker with that trowel never dies.”
Fred D’Aguiar writes of grief compassionately and with respect, “…If you bury a child the rest of your life/ Spoils even though you live it as best/ As you can and never let on to others.// When I touched you in a loving way/ I fought off pictures of our children/ Dead before their time, dead before us:// When we hugged I left no room for air/ Other than hers exhaled into my face.” He doesn’t intrude on the feelings of others but records unsentimentally and demonstrating his poetic strengths.