top of page

Poetry Review: 12:08:19

by Maggie Harris

Our reviewer delights in a zesty poetry collection. 

This fresh and ripe book is packed with ‘the resonance of belonging’ of immortality, of bones that cry to speak.

I knew I wanted to course this zesty and pithy sea – ‘go Honey go’ – the second Maggie Harris told us ‘we are her sunshine’ and more so when those sealed lemons so full of pips, burst to juice, and spilt the tangy illicit stories of girls and mangoes force ripened. We know by now (Page 1: line 17) we may get some sprinklings of sherbet, but the astute perfectly observed acid will not stay under and will always rise to the top like a sunny mocking balloon you can’t push beneath the waves.


This book will gather the fallen, draw those from many lands and like ‘bellied fish whose eyes glaze up at the sun’, she faces us with ancestors and history and gathers them in like ‘leaves into the remembrance.’

Has the lemon been placed on the beach by chance? The poet’s mind explores all sweet and sour possibilities and concludes the universe is not benevolent. She could eat the lemon or watch it sail and dissect the flesh of her soul to find meaning in this bounty. Surely it is more than ‘just’ a lemon?

Through Lemon’s journeying, Maggie is no longer a distant observer but rides it and uses it to examine disenfranchisement, disengagement, displacement, and disconnection. Lemon becomes personified, we feel for it, love it, try to grasp it, but the tide tantalizingly takes it just out of our reach: It will never be ours, but it will never be free either. Lemon bobs everywhere but will always be, like migrants, a stranger in the mist.

‘The chapel doesn’t care about hallelujahs from distant lands.’ Afraid to love, afraid to root, but connecting with birds trapped in cabinets, this woman was born to roam, like the lemon. Lemons are not meant to be at sea! Unless to fix scurvy. Stones and water ground her: One senses a restlessness, a sense of having to collect aspects of herself on every shore. There is a sad, disconsolate but also resilient and proud sense of knowing and bearing: ‘but we are Caribbean, we know about discovery; are used to fixing ourselves into the frame.’


The pain in her DNA, of slavery, uprooting, migration – ‘we all come from the sea’ – one senses she wants the lemon to embody the world, its ‘panacea of seeds’ all the stories that the voiceless and oppressed, the stolen, the fleeing could never tell. This poet has ‘put a spell’ on me. Tonight I will dream of her lemon atop new spring tides. This book may be her 6th but it is just the beginning, as at the end she tells us of plants uprooted, animals tangled in plastic and Lily ripped from her bed; a damaged world drawing together for solace under the light of a new yellow super moon.

This book is a mourning song and a celebration of lives lost: a funeral where the deceased have declared that none should wear black. Life and death cannot be separated, ‘waves are not separated from the sea.’


These are stories where history cannot be dismantled from today, where the ‘fossilized brothers are cemented into our cliffs.’ We cannot deny hardship, we cannot pretend we are the ‘captain of this ship’ cannot deny disconnection, cannot pretend that their voices are not trapped in the strata. ‘Even the dog has learnt not to howl.’ This is a call to suck truth and not spit out the pips. The stories are there, if not in our Eurocentric history books, they are within people, blood and bones, in the pith and kin, and in the pith and skin. Look at what the lemon nods to. Stare into the ‘in-between space’ and ‘place your hand through the bars.’ Everything old still exists – the discarding of plastic, of people: it all comes back to accuse. We have a responsibility to the past, ourselves and the present to own injustice and create anew. Yellow is the colour of cowards but also hope, the first hue God gives us after the dark death of Winter, the shouting trumpeting of daffodils, the march to new life.


Was the lemon placed by chance? Does it have a destiny? What will become of it? Was all this displacement meant to happen?  ‘Each tide he breaks the bones of anchored rocks.’ This is the lemon’s calling, and Maggie’s: an expose, a stripping back to bare bone – ‘here are the ghosts’ – the bones of every man, woman and child.

Sin and Tonic with a slice of lemon anybody?  Pour yourself one now and sink and cry, drink and fly.

Review: Angela Dye.

Get it:

Maggie Harris – On Watching A Lemon Sail The Sea

Cane Arrow Press

Buy from Cane Arrow Press

bottom of page