“The Current of the Sugar”

In my role as Poet Laureate, I received a commission to write a poem for the 60th anniversary of Redpath Sugar’s residency on Toronto’s waterfront, to be read at Doors Open Toronto. While my poem, “The Current of the Sugar,” was dropped from the roster of the event, the poem will be considered for inclusion in Redpath’s museum. You can read the full text of the poem and more about its reception in this Toronto Star Article.

I have certainly welcomed the opportunity to write this glosa, which incorporates lines from Redpath’s founder, John Redpath. I have since read the poem on CBC’s AS IT HAPPENS with Carol Off and Jeff Douglas. The full episode, entitled, Northern Plights, aired on May 24, 2019. I’ve included Jeff Douglas’ introduction and my reading of the poem in the audio snippet, here. Feel free listen along as you read the text of the poem, which I’ve included below.

The Current of the Sugar

The lord gave us a beauteous flower
To cherish for a day,
And in the morn his angel sent
To take our flower away.
—John Redpath

Down a shady lane through the sugar cane, the good
old song tells us, a burly bum came hiking,
singing of the land of honey. In the sun,
the canes were arrowing far above his head,
the white-shining flags, proud horsetails, each one made
of thousands of flowers, each flower with its single seed,
preparing the sugar of next year—our dower
we never earned. Given for no reason from the earth,
and beautiful. So that the cane could never be
only a grass for humans to see and devour,
wisely the lord gave us a beautiful flower.

Soon the cutters would have to come to the fields,
bent, with heavy knives felling the shade,
cutting stems into even lengths, bundling, stacking,
discarding the flowers, then in the sweat of their brows
returning from the brutal beautiful sun
in the cooler evening, the greatening dark, their children
seeming to merge into night. And in this way,
the old life in forests and on shores almost gone,
the people lived, in mighty despair could laugh and pray,
and the earth still had them to cherish for a day.

I’ve seen the sugar in port before the lading
being washed to exorcise the impure, the molasses
that otherwise would settle to wormwood tar.
We’ve seen the great bulk carrier in glassy or heavy seas,
stolidly coming. In Youngstown once in the furnace
we saw iron for her hull still only liquid fire.
Our daughters were born and died, and in our mourning
we went back to the office or the line,
to the mill, now our whole world, our blessing, our warning.
The lord saw, and sent his angel in the morning.

One day by Sugar Beach the Solina docked—
home port Nassau, under flag of the Bahamas, the heaven
of the sugar cane. Was she the angel?—Solina,
sunlight in the eastern wind, floating castle of steel.
A towering loader stabbed its green beak down her hold,
swivelled…into the factory bays poured torrents
of raw grains. The whole current of the sugar lay
there in our seeing, from sunburst panicle to marzipan rosette,
the world-stream where all will drink health every day ….
if the lord is not to take our flower away.

A.F. Moritz

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