that Death came to see me
in hot-pink pants
and matching waistcoat too.
He was a beautiful black saga boy.
Forcing open the small door of my wooden cage,
he filled my frame of vision
with a broad white smile,
and as he reached for my throat,
the pink sequins on his shoulders
winked at me.
Last night, I dreamt
that Death came to see me in hot-pink pants.
He was a beautiful black saga boy
and I hit him with a polished staff
of yellow wood,
and he went down.
But as he reached for me once more,
Laughing, laughing that saga boy laugh,
I awoke, holding myself,
unable to breathe.
How beautiful was Death
in hot-pink pants with matching waistcoat too.
Poet: Heather Royes
MANIFEST LEVEL OF SIGNIFICATION (on-the-surface reading)
The personification of Death (psychedelic characterization); symbolized by Death’s colourful and cheerful disguise conceals its true intentions—to kill. The attractive and brightly coloured dress of Death induces the persona into a drugged-like passive acceptance of Death’s intrusion into his life/home/space. In the first stanza, the persona is recollecting on a dream he experienced the previous night. During this subconscious encounter he is visited by the personified Death wearing “hot-pink pants/and matching waistcoat”; whose ethnicity as a “beautiful black saga boy” is in striking contrast to his brightly coloured attire. In the subconscious realm of the persona, the representation of Death as a well-dressed ‘ladies’ man, West Indian playboy and minstrel figure (a travelling musician, perhaps of Trinidadian heritage) distracts both the persona and reader from exercising a conscious and guarded counter response to Death’s sole purpose: to end (his and all) life. Notwithstanding Death’s seemingly entertaining and friendly presence, “he filled my frame of vision/with a broad white smile”, the inevitable outcome (of Death’s true intentions) is quickly realized by the persona who recounts, “as he reached for my throat”. A frightfully threatening and foreboding action, which started from Death’s forced entry into the caged-like existence (perhaps living conditions) of the persona.
The second stanza begins with a repetition of the title of the poem, which is also the first two lines of the first stanza, indicative of a recurring dream, which may be appropriately labelled a nightmare and is also the poems’ PUNCHLINE. That is, a humourous portrayal of the poet’s thematic treatment of death is conveyed in this repetition. On this occasion, however, the persona is prepared to retaliate (albeit still in the subconscious realm of dreaming) “with a polished staff/of yellow wood”. Despite inflicting some injury to Death, “and he went down”; the persona is however unable to completely impede the diabolical determination and mocking laughter of Death “as he reached for me once more/Laughing, laughing that saga boy laugh”. A reinforcement of the persona’s recurring nightmarish encounter with Death. The real saga of this poem is that the old story of Death’s diabolical heroics—invading the lives of many an unsuspecting (human) victim is a story as old as life itself. Death, an ongoing, seemingly never-ending story of life (the life-death continuum of human existence) appears harmless and entertaining but is as foreboding and threatening to the continuation of life as it has always been. In spite of its many seemingly harmless disguises. LATENT LEVEL OF SIGNIFICATION (below-the-surface/subtextual/coretextual reading) One possible core reading/interpretation of this poem is that it addresses the destructive realities or outcomes of drug abuse, specifically, the attractively packaged LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide); a powerful psychoactive hallucinogenic drug. In the first stanza, the persona appears to be a first time drug user. Hence, the first dream corresponds with the first ‘high’ that produces hallucinations and apparent expansion of the persona’s consciousness. Under the psychoactive influence of LSD, he imagines being visited by a “saga boy” dressed in attractive “hot-pink pants/and matching waistcoat”. Perhaps, this was the attire of the ‘drug pusher’ (a symbolic figure and agent of Death) who introduced the persona to LSD. Furthermore, the LSD designs can range from simple stars in black and white to exotic artwork in brightly coloured shapes or full four-colour prints in the form of sweets, pills and stickers or in liquid form as drinks. This hallucinogenic effect can be recognized in the persona’s envisioning of “the pink sequins on his shoulders/winked at me”. Perhaps the “pink sequins” are the attractively packaged assortments of LSD offered to the persona. This speaks to the deceptive nature of disguised drug dealers and the drugs they offer for sale. What appears harmless may in fact be deadly. As the persona soon discovered, the drugs, when first offered, were given “with a broad white smile”. However, this quickly became a life-threatening experience, either from the choking actions of the drug dealer who attacks the persona or from the harmful effects of the drugs or both. In the second stanza, the persona is a seemingly struggling drug user, fighting somewhat of a losing battle with drug addition. His near death encounter with drug addition in the first stanza, “as he reached for my throat” has become an ongoing problem in his life; reinforced by his recurring dream (nightmare). His attempt to resists the persistent temptations of further drug use and addition is both noble and encouraging as he fights back “with a polished staff/of yellow wood”. As a recovering drug addict in rehabilitation, symbolized by the “polished staff” (carried as an aid or used as a weapon) on his journey to recovery, the persona experiences withdrawal symptoms, “I awoke, holding myself,/unable to breathe”. Concluding, as he began, with the PUNCHLINE, on how “beautiful” or euphoric, ecstatic and harmless LSD first appeared to be. Not knowing it was the embodiment of Death. This psychedelic (hallucinogenic/mind-altering/mind-blowing) depiction of death may be denoting the style of rock music and culture of the mid-1960s, characterized by musical experimentation, drug-related lyrics, intense vivid colours and drug use, especially LSD.
The abovementioned on-the-surface and core textual readings are not meant to be the only true interpretations of this poem. As with most, if not all, poems, other levels of reading and meanings may also be equally true [falsifications] of this poem.