Caroline Carver’s Tikki Tikki Man


© Image by Lyn Moir

Caroline Carver began writing poetry in the mid-1990s, and won the National Poetry Prize with a poem about killing a shark in 1998. Since then she has won or been placed in many competitions, winning the prestigious Silver Wyvern Award from Poetry-on-the-Lake in Orta, Italy, and the first Guernsey ‘Poems On the Buses’ competition. She was commended in the 2010 National Poetry competition.
Caroline was born in England, brought up in Bermuda and Jamaica, finished her education in England, Switzerland and France, and then emigrated to Canada for 30 years. Since she returned to England she’s travelled widely with her poetry. She’s a Hawthornden Fellow, resident poet at Trebah Gardens and very active in poetry affairs in Cornwall. 

Tikki Tikki Man (Ward Wood Publishing, 2012) is Caroline Carver’s fourth collection and the first to be published by Ward Wood. It tells the story of how two children deal with the after effects of child abuse, as their lives take them from Jamaica to Paris, to Scotland and eventually the Canadian wilderness.
being Bluebeard
means submarines     doors clanging shut
sonic booms     furtive night messengers
means sealing of fire   water     wind
reduction by earth and its dark shovels
watch out man     I see you slipping in and out
of corridors     look like rats got your face”
“The vivid landscapes, real and imaginary, that these poems economically evoke, are never simply an exotic backdrop. Rather, their beauty and their ambiguities weave the reader into an unsettling, unsentimental vision of how childhood can be damaged, exiled from itself and finally, cautiously, returned to its place in the world. This is difficult material, delicately done, all the more powerful for its sure and subtle touch.”
– Philip Gross
“The poetry of Caroline Carver’s Tikki Tikki Man is spacious and at home in many landscapes. Its content is troubling, its beauty redemptive. It leaves the reader with a sense of the world as a larger, and warmer, place.”
– Alison Brackenbury
“… a stunning collection. I completely lost myself in the world you have created.”
– Dr Catherine Walters
Maia holds to everything she knows
like a suit of armour
her world’s made of granite
there’s nothing else to learn
she’s lost her curiosity
if I wonder why flowers open in the morning
and shut again at night
or ask why some burst out with great breaths of joy
filling us with the scent of mangoes and wild honey
and then hold it in again for weeks
she looks at her fingers
as if they’ve only just grown on her hands this morning
she turns her eyes away as she talks
– perhaps when I’m grown up
I’ll stop remembering –   she says
we no longer climb trees
to spy on the world from our leafy hideaways
peep through half-open bedroom doors
stand on the beach wondering why the horizon
is always the same distance away
whether we are rowing our boat out to the reef
or standing on the ferry as it heads out to sea
when I persuade her to start riding again
she’s like a sleep-walker
a stone-like calm on her face
– even weeds are stronger than I am –
she says   – I’m not like them
I don’t want to push through concrete
I don’t want to find the light –
sometimes we go to the kitchens
where we’re not supposed to go
but everyone else is out
and today Maia cut herself when she fell off the donkey
the cook has also cut his arm
he picks her up
presses his dark skin against her freckles
– see   we’re blood brother and sister –   he says
– we’re the same under the skin –
we both love him as deeply
as we’ve ever loved anyone
but this was before the Tikki Tikki Man
we’re playing at her house
when there’s a knock on the door
it’s the Tikki Tikki Man
but her father’s not here
when he comes in
the scent of roses is replaced
by the prickle of Old Spice aftershave
we run into the garden
climb the mango tree
he’s too fat to come after us
prowls around the base
like an angry wolf
we’re shipwrecked
on this outcrop of seashell and reef
only aurelia aurita
the slow white jellyfish
doesn’t seem to mind
her pale calm reminds us
she’s named for the moon
but I’m afraid for her
there’s no food
and it’s six hours till the tide comes back
like a woman with a bucket
daylight draws water from her shallow pool
          the sun moves slowly
aurelia’s pale blue orifices
open and shut   open and shut
like the questing mouths of new babies
not sure which way to turn
in their self-contained worlds
– I’ll never have children –   says Maia
as we wait for the lifeboat
nudging its way in among sharp rocks
so it can throw a line to us
we buy tamarind balls in the market
before we go to the beach
but we’re not comfortable with the sight of men
in bulging bathing-suits
one of them scratches himself
and dark hairs creep into the sunlight
everything to do with men’s bodies
has a bad feeling to it
the sweet sour taste of the tamarind balls
prickles our mouths
– if you wear your hair like that –
says her neighbour
– someone’s going to rape you –
Maia goes home and looks at herself in the mirror
she takes the kitchen scissors
hacks at the hair which reaches to her waist
tears it from her head till her scalp’s bleeding
cuts the great swag away from herself
like a scythe of late summer wheat
trims   more slowly now
back to the fluff of childhood
then… gathering every last strand into a bag
she takes it out into the garden   sets fire to it
she’d thanked him for his thoughtfulness
now   she sees
he was warning her against himself
for the next seven weeks
the smell of burning hair stays with her
she never goes out
each night she dreams of a forest in flames
animals running into the desert
bodies singed with pain
radiating a terrible light
from Tikki Tikki Man (Ward Wood Publishing, 2012).
Order Tikki Tikki Man.
Read more of Caroline’s work at poetry p f.

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