Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cuban life before Castro has supplied American poetry with rich, ambiguous material. An engaging, poignant group of poems in Peg Boyers's new book, Honey with Tobacco, includes childhood memories of that time. Boyers declines mere nostalgia, as in this poem that scrutinizes pleasure-seeking, a leisured class, even memory itself, with a cool attention, analytical as well as sympathetic. The reference to a central incident in E.M. Forster's novel A Passage to India operates as allusion should, as a compact, rapid inclusion of themes: in this case, the ambiguity of events, especially erotically charged events, the sinister underside of privilege, the prolonged receding and the long reach of colonial history, the interweaving of private life and social reality:


It was a beach

like all beaches, only perhaps more beautiful.

And the sand was pink not red.

We would arrive in caravans,

hampers overflowing with food and drink

like Aziz and his party on the way to Malabar.

The colonials and their servants away on an outing.

We would stop under thatch umbrellas,

towels and tablecloths spread out against the sea.

My mother in her skirted swim suit

surrounded by fathers of other children,

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