MaComère

http://www.macomerejournal.com/ ( MaComère )
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Title:
MaComère
Physical Description:
Serial
Language:
English
Spanish
Creator:
Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars
Publisher:
Hyacinth M. Simpson
Place of Publication:
Manitoba, Canada
Publication Date:

Subjects

Genre:
serial   ( sobekcm )

Notes

Abstract:
MaComère is a refereed journal that is devoted to scholarly studies and creative works by and about Caribbean women in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean diaspora. It is the journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS), an international organization founded in 1995. MaComère is published annually at the end of each year. Publication of MaComère is supported by the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts, the Department of English, the Caribbean Research Centre at Ryerson University and The Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University.
General Note:
The word macomère is widely used by women in the Caribbean to mean "my child's godmother"; "my best friend and close female confindante"; "my bridesmaid, or another female wedding member of a wedding party of which I was a bridesmaid"; "the godmother of the child to whom I am also godmother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the depth of her friendship, has rights and privileges over my child and is a surrogate mother." This name seems appropriate because it so clearly expresses the intimate relations which women in the Caribbean share, is so firmly gendered, and honors the importance of friendship in relation to the important rituals of marriage, birth, and (implied) death. Moreover, macomère is a French Creole word which, although related to the French language, has taken on a structure and meaning which is indigenous to the Caribbean. The word is spelled in this way, instead of in the clearly Creole manner (macumè, makumeh, macoomè, macomeh, and many other variants), so that the female connotations of the word are highlighted and those meanings which apply to males ("a womanish or gossipy man"; "a homosexual") are less obvious. In those islands where Krèol (linguistic term for the French patos) is the first language, the same term is used for both females and males with meaning determined by the context. In islands such as Trinidad, however, where English has overlain Krèol, the Creole (linguistic term for the English patois) has incorporated the redundant my macomè and macomè man, thus reinforcing both the perceptions of intimacy and the female quality of the term. Interestingly enough, Richard Allsopp in The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (Oxford University Press, 1996) has indicated the possibility that maku in Belize, with the meaning "midwife", is also derived from macomère. Hence, the word forces us to recall the continuities and correspondences in Caribbean languages and cultures, as well as the dynamic, creative, and transforming power of Creoles. In the purely English-speaking islands, the only comparable term is godmother (usually the mother's best friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean, there is the similar comadre, although, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different. Join us in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of the meaning inherent in this culturally rich lexical item from the Caribbean Creoles.

Record Information

Source Institution:
FIU: Digital LIbrary of the Caribbean
Holding Location:
FIU: Digital LIbrary of the Caribbean
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 39971238
System ID:
AA00000079:00005

Full Text
MaComere
Volume 4 2001


MaComere
_Table of Contents_
Vol. 4 2001
Helen Pyne Timothy
About Our Name .............................ix
Tributes
Carole Boyce Davies and Meredith Gadsby
Remembering Beryl Gilroy, August 30, 1924 -
April 4, 2001: "Reflections by Two Daughters" ...... 1
Maureen Roberts
Came to Find You, Talking Soft to Me
like These Island Whispers...................... 8
Interviews
Renee H. Shea
"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with
Writer and Painter, Marilene Phipps.............. 14
Marilene Phipps
Introducing the Chapel........................ 25
Christian Wolff
An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson............... 26
Nalo Hopkinson
from Griffonne, Novel-in-Progress................ 37


Creative Writing
Noreen Lois Duncan
Aunt Jim....................................43
Violet......................................44
Nydia Ecury
The Race at Eventide..........................50
Marsha Leconte
Justification of a Battered.......................52
Teonilda Madera
Areitos.....................................54
Brindis.....................................55
UnHijo ....................................55
A Child.....................................56
Eco Envejecido .............................56
The Echo of Age .............................56
Remembrances...............................57
Tragedy....................................57
Angelita Reyes
Letter Written Near the North Sea................59
Postcard to Trinidad...........................60
Mireya Robles
En la otra mitad del Tiempo.....................61
The Other Half of Time ........................62
Loreina Santos Silva
La Moira Aprieta un Boton en la
Computadora Cosmica.........................64
Moira Strikes a Key on the Cosmic Computer .......66
Hanetha Vete-Congolo Longing...........
69


Criticism
Linda Craig
Intersections in Ana Lydia Vega's
"Pasion de historia" ...........................71
Irline Francois
The Daffodil Gap: Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy..........84
Ivelisse Santiago-Stommes
Nation, cultura y mujer: La identidad nacional y
las relaciones entre hombres y mujeres
en Sonar en cubano de Cristina Garcia............101
Suzette Spencer
Shall We Gather at the River: Ritual, Benign Forms
of Injury, and the Wounds of Displaced Women in
Opal Palmer Adisa's It Begins with Tears..........108
Helen Pyne Timothy
Reading the Signs in Pauline Melville's "Erzulie" .... 119
Selected Works from the 2000 International Conference of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars
Giselle Liza Anatol
Border Crossings in Audre Lorde's Zami.
Triangular Linkages of Identity and Desire.........130
Estrella Betances de Pujadas
ElPasaporte................................142
Jacqueline Brice-Finch
Edwidge Danticat: Memories of a Maafa ..........146
Mary Hanna
Cross Ties and New Bindings: Outsider Voices
from Exile to Diaspora........................155


Josefa Lago Grana
Despertar de un suefio: Exilio, hogar y familia
en Sonar en cubano de Cristina Garcia............165
Alfred Lopez
(Un)concealed Histories: Whiteness and the
Land in Michelle Cliff s A beng..................173
Teonilda Madera
Bombillo Rojo en Lunallena....................184
Beverly Nieves
Excerpt from Chapter 4 of Hurricane Comin!.......189
Book Reviews
Michelle Brown
Opal Palmer Adisa.'sLeaf-of-Life................196
Jennifer L. Glasscock
Elizabeth Nunez's Bruised Hibiscus..............201
Bolekaja Kamau
Edwidge Danticat, ed. The Butterfly's Way: Voices
from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States.....204
Bridget Kevane
Mayra Santos-Febres's^/'rewa^e/ena.............206
Karen Monteleone
Ivonne Lamazares's The Sugar Island ............209
Shawna Moore-Madlangbayan
Giselle Vmem's L'dme pretee aux oiseaux.........212
Ingrid Reneau
Paule Marshall's The Fisher King................214


Ann Armstrong Scarboro
Paule Marshall's The Fisher King................217
Recent Publications.................................220
Notes on Contributors...............................224




About the Name
Helen Pyne Timothy
About the Name
The word MaComere is widely used by women in the Caribbean to mean "my child's godmother"; "my best friend and close female confidante"; "my bridesmaid, or another female wedding member of a wedding party of which I was a bridesmaid"; "the godmother of the child to whom I am also godmother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the depth of her friendship, has rights and privileges over my child and whom I see as a surrogate mother."
This name seemed appropriate because it so clearly expresses the intimate relations which women in the Caribbean share, is so firmly gendered and honors the importance of friendship in relation to the important rituals of marriage, birth and (implied) death.
Moreover, MaComere is a French Creole word which, though related to the French language, has taken on a structure and a meaning which is indigenous to the Caribbean. The word is spelled in this way, instead of in the clearly Creole manner {macumt, or makumeh, or macoome', macomeh or any other variant), so that the female connotations of the word are highlighted and those meanings which apply to males ("a womanish or gossipy man"; "a homosexual") are less obvious. In those islands where Kreol (linguistic term for the French patois) is the first language, the same term is used for both females and males with meaning determined by context. In islands like Trinidad, however, where English has overlain Kreol, the Creole (linguistic term for the English patois) has incorporated the redundant: "my. macomt," "macom6 man." thus reinforcing both the perceptions of intimacy and the female quality of the term. Interestingly enough, Richard Allsopp, in The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (OUP 1996), has indicated the possibility that maku in Belize with the meaning "midwife" is also derived from this word. Hence, the word forces us to recall the continuities and correspondences in Caribbean language and culture, as well as the dynamic, creative and transforming power of Creoles.
In the purely English-speaking islands, the only comparable term is godmother (usually the mother's best friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean, there is the similar comadre, although, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different.
Join me in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of meaning inherent in this cultural rich lexical item from the Caribbean Creoles.
ix


Remembering Beryl Gilroy Carole Boyce Davies and Meredith Gadsby
Remembering Beryl Gilroy August30, 1924-April 4, 2001 "Reflections by Two Daughters"
Dr. Beryl Gilroy was honored by the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars at its 1996 conference and MaComere. 1998, has a special section dedicated to her work.
Blue aerogramme letters from Mrs. G. still remain on my desk. Not moving them seems to assure her continued presence and concretize my disbelief that she is gone. Mrs. G. would always write to see how the girls and I were doing, offer advice, a funny story or try to get my take on something significant to her: Why was Paul being attacked in the U.S.?1 What did I think of her latest manuscript? How was Ricky? When are you coming to London? "This summer!" I continued to tell her, not knowing that she could not wait that long.
Mrs. G. had a knack for calling me just when I needed to talk to someone of her wisdom. She offered the best advice, and she always laced our conversations with stories of her grandchildren, her latest accomplishments, humourous quips, stories of her childhood, some of which appear in Sunlight on Sweet Water (1994). Assuming the liberty of women her age to pronounce on anything they feel like, she would sometimes drop statements about the healthy need for sex in one's life, and in the process would lament the times when she was too bothered to go to bed with her beloved Pat who died before she could show him fully how much she loved and appreciated him. Her sense of the importance of the erotic is proudly expressed in her contribution "The Fight" (180) to Black Erotica/Erotique Noire. Something she told me in our last conversation remains: "It is often difficult to find sisterhood in the company of the sisters." Above all, Mrs. G. felt deeply from her years of practice as a psychologist and her observations as a black woman enjoying her "third age": that black women needed to be loved, that dominant culture often marked us as unlovable; and that we had to struggle deeply to find love and the ability to give love in return. Her training as a counseling psychologist had helped immensely in her ability to explore this aspect. And for this reason, Mrs. G. lamented the loss of years of research through drawings of the self which she developed with clients in her practice. A potential publisher in London claimed to have lost the manuscript, and it was never returned to her.
I first met Mrs. G, as she wanted my children and me to call her, at the Caribbean Women Writers Conference at Wellesley. She sat away from the "madding crowd" quietly observing the to and fro of the younger writers or those whom she felt were angling for recognition without having done the work. She reminded me of some of my mother's "cousin family," so, not knowing who she was, I went up to her and told her so. That must have endeared me to her. We have been friends until this
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parting. She liked my intellectual work, valued my comments as I valued hers. She sent my children presents, often made sure she gave me something small whenever I visited her, and I spent many pleasant afternoons in her company in her rambling house on 86 Messina Avenue in the Kilburn area of London. She was always planning to get rid of this house and move to somewhere smaller, but all who knew her knew deep down that she was never really going to move. That house was part of her identity. We spent many hours talking about literature, writing, life, men, children, the Caribbean, the works.
In 1992,1 spent a semester in London with the Binghamton London program. Upon arrival, I had made contact with Jan Shinebourne who informed me that Beryl had heard that I was there and was expecting me to call her. My own project at that time was to study black women writers in Britain for a chapter in my book Migrations of the Subject (1994), and I interviewed Mrs. G. and several other of the writers there. I also invited Mrs. G. to talk to our students. After her visit, the more curious students ran to the library to see if this small, aging black woman was really as famous a writer as I made her out to be. One of them (Brian Ripley Crandall) came back with the news that Beryl Gilroy was the author of about 14 children's stories, novels, an autobiography, Black Teacher (1976), a book of poetry and much more. He promptly arranged an interview with her for his project and left completely enamored of her.
Since then, I have read all her new books in manuscript form. She liked my feedback, but I was careful not to interfere with her creative vision. As a writer, Beryl Gilroy was fascinated by historical materials which documented the experiences of interracial relationships, of black women who struggled to live with dignity in the centuries preceding ours, particularly during the period of enslavement of African peoples. Her novel Stedman and Joanna -A Love in Bondage (1991) comes out of that deep interest and the type of research into aspects of black history often not part of the popular discourse. So did Inkle and Yarico (1996) and the last novel she completed and was readying for publication which I have read in manuscript form. I was introduced to Beryl Gilroy's work through Frangipani House (1986) which I read at a time when my aunt was in a nursing home struggling through an experience not unlike Mama King's. It helped me make sense of that experience and has remained my favorite. Beryl always talked about Gather the Faces (1996) and In Praise of Love and Children (1996), though, as her favorites for she was fascinated with the interior lives and choices of black people. Some of her discussion of her own work has been edited by Joan Anim-Addo as Leaves in the Wind (1998).
In 1995,1 spent another semester in London and similarly visited and spent time with Mrs. G. Another student, Claudia Gabel, completed an honor's thesis using Beryl Gilroy as one of the writers she studied and similarly conducted interviews with her. This time, my daughter Dalia would roller skate over to her house from our place in Swiss Cottage to have a literature and writing lesson once a week. She developed a close friendship with my daughters as well, and they knew they could talk to her if they needed someone who cared. Beryl Gilroy's passion for teaching and training
2


Remembering Beryl Gilroy
students for excellence is a whole area that needs to be better acknowledged. She understood the British educational system well and used her experience as a Head Teacher positively for many British born and immigrant children. On many occasions she would boast about her successes with children who were able to get good placement in the best schools because of her preparation of them for exams and interviews. Her children's stories [the Nippers and Little Nippers Series, (1970-1975)]; the four volume Green and Gold (1976); In for a Penny (1978), and Carnival of Dreams (1980) need to be reissued, and her autobiography, Black Teacher, should become a staple reading in the education of black teachers anywhere and accorded its place along with her compatriot's, E. R. Brathwaite's To Sir With Love as the two primary texts which document the lives of teachers in Britain in the early days of the Afro-Caribbean community's experience in London. Her work in the Institute of Education, University of London was recently recognized, thankfully before her death, with an honorary degree from the University of London... a proud photograph [page 4] of which she sent me not too long before her passing.
So, I cannot imagine Mrs. G. not being there anymore. For the last decade or so, she has been a constant in my lifealways hospitable, kind, supportive, friendly, welcoming and similarly embracing anyone connected with me. Mrs. G. had been preparing herself for her passing in her last years. She told me not too long ago that, after last year's bout in the hospital during which they thought she was going to die, she did not see herself having that much more time anymore and above all did not want to live handicapped by illness and disability. Her last letter said: "This has been my worst winter for me in London...." Above all, Mrs. G. wanted to join her beloved Pat to whom she dedicated all her books. I am sure she is happy now to have crossed over safely.
"See you next lifetime, Mrs. G.!"
Carole Boyce Davies
************** ********************************************************
I have grown quite accustomed to receiving a letter from Dr. Gilroy at the start of each New Year. Her last letter, dated 11th Jan. 2001, is addressed to Dr. Meredith Gadsby, in full acknowledgement of completion of my graduate program. Dr. Gilroy believed in acknowledging Black women's accomplishments and was no doubt proud to say that she had participated in my development as a scholar. My first encounter with Beryl Gilroy was in 1996 in Miami, at a meeting of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars. Mrs. G. was sitting quietly, contemplating the
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MaComere


Remembering Beryl Gilroy
possibilities of an early departure, because she was suffering from chest pains and sunburn. After informing me that I looked like someone she knew she seized this opportunity of our first encounter as an excellent teaching moment. I was, at that moment, embarking on the study which later became my dissertation, and Mrs. G, intrigued by the subject, gave me, in 15 minutes, a brief history of the cultural importance of salt for African Diasporic peoples (with specific ritualistic references) and the roots of the idea of being "worth one's salt." I wrote down all she said like a mad woman, hungry for more information, desperately trying to record every single word.
When I met Mrs. G. one year later in London, I was studying for my comprehensive exams and conducting research on Black women writers in London. Mrs. G, or Dr. Beryl A. Gilroy, Ph.D. Ed. D. F. I. Ed., M. Ed., as the return address on her letter reads, was a master teacher. She loved teaching, she told me, and knew quite early that she was good at it. During my interviews with her in 1996, she taught me a great deal. I first sat with her at Cork's, a small bistro off Tottenham Court Road, to discuss her life and work and soon found that the woman I was speaking to was a psychologist, former head teacher and the first Black head teacher in London, a private tutor, a poet, novelist, widow, and mother. Before I knew it, she was interviewing me, and I was telling her everything. We were so comfortable and so enjoying our talk that I traveled home with her by bus to 86 Messina Avenue in Kilburn, talking all the way.
What had begun as an informal interview soon became one of the most intellectually engaging and enjoyable days I have ever spent with anyone. In the end, we recorded two hours of interview, after Mrs. G. had given me explicit instructions on how to better formulate my interview questions. Since that meeting, my trips to London were never complete without a phone call and/or a visit to see Mrs. G. These visits were never a chore, for she was a pleasure to be with. When I realized that she enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed her, I was honored. Mrs. G. even insisted on meeting my partner, so that she could "psychoanalyze" him herself and give me her educated opinion on whether or not he was an appropriate match for me. I dutifully took him to her house last October. In true Caribbean elder woman fashion, she hustled me away into the kitchen after an hour of laughter and discussion to let me know that she "approved."
At the end of the letter she sent me in January she wrote of the excellent academic progress of her grandchildren, and the beautiful book of her poetry her grandson compiled for his sister Cora's 13th birthday. "I gave her 'time,'" Mrs. G. writes, "which to me is precious." Mrs. G. gave me time and much more. This year brings with it the loss of two powerful women in my life, Dr. Beryl A. Gilroy, and Millicent Eudora Gadsby, R.N.S. (my aunt), who passed away within weeks of each other. Mrs. G. had even counseled me on how best to deal with the inevitable loss of my aunt. Both women shared more with me than I can ever communicate in a piece of this size, or than I could ever communicate in words punctuated with. I try not to miss
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MaComere
them, for they are always with me. What I will do is channel my longing to sit with them once more into a passion for teaching and learning. Dr. Gilroy would have expected nothing less.
Love Always,
Meredith Gadsby
Passing Days
Across the chasmsTime and Space, I have not seen my young friends change From green-growing saplings To gnarled and burdened relics of old age-Dust-dry, slow of deed and thought. I assume them
Set in tight, deep-burdened nights, Mindless! With impotent voices That withered inch by inch.
I have not seen their hair turn white Yet bright with tears of grey, Nor heard the slip-slip-slurping Of their man-made teeth, Unreal to mouth and tongue.
I have not met them deaf to greeting
Not heard their joints rebel against
The passing of the years;
Tongueless from their discontents and longings,
Tuneful from their sighs. Uncertain as they shuffle by.
I assume their salad days and mine, Are fragrant dreams of dancing times. As we mourn the passing of the past. Such moments fade, I do report For every day makes life a sport And tags its quiet disappearing.
Beryl Gilroy
30th of August 1974
6


Remembering Beryl Gilroy
(Published in Joan Anim-Addo ed., Voice, Memory, Ashes. London: Mango Publishing 1999)
NOTES
1. Many people in the academy express shock when they learn that she was the unidentified mother of Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic (1994). Proud of his accomplishments, confident about his skills, she had many questions about his practices. Many in London whom I have interviewed go as far as to state that shemore than her sonwas the (under)recognized expert on Black British culture and Afro-Caribbean experience in London. This point is important as it once more illustrates the way that the intellectual and creative work of Black women is often undervalued.
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MaComere
Maureen Roberts
Came to Find You, Talking Soft to Me like These Island Whispers
Axnryl Johnson, poet, born April 6, 1944; died February 1st, 2001
"M, Haven't forgotten you, but I have been excruciatingly busy!" Amryl, Xmas 2000
Two thousand and one was going to be really busy, lots of projects. We would be working on one together. That was the message in the Christmas card showing Santa's sled being pulled by an odd assortment of animals. ". .. you can't get the staff these days!" Sudden death always comes as a shock, so when I got the news that at the age of 56, Amryl Johnson had died, suddenly and apparently peacefully, in her own home, I did not believe it. She had traveled back from Oxford after Christmas, put a tape on, sat on the sofa in her eclectic living room, put together and decorated with the help of many friends, over the years, and gone to sleep forever. The tape continued to play and the usual messages from friends collected on the answering machine.
So on a frosty morning in February I found myself standing outside her front door waiting for family and friends to arrive to pay our final respects to a writer and friend whose books, performances and personality had been a strong influence for many of us.
Amryl was born in Trinidad, came to England at the age of eleven, where she went to school in London. She took a degree in English with African and Caribbean Studies at Kent University, lectured at the University of Warwick for a while, wrote several anthologies of poetry, and performed her work throughout England and Europe. During the last two years of her life, Amryl was launching her own publishing company Sable and was mentoring several women poets and artists whose work she planned to publish by Sable.
Today would be a good day to die
No more boasts, screams, cries shouts of early morning litanies or sounds which grow from nothing to devour everything else then curl back to the splinter of sharp whispers repeated endlessly from neighbours you never see except to screech abuse and insults
["A Good Day to Die Calling" by Amryl Johnson 1999]
8


Came to Find You, Talking Soft to Me like These Island Whispers
She chose winter, not waiting for the thaw of spring to open the hard rose buds growing outside her door. The only flowers alive were the first white snowdrops congregating in the shadow of the hedge, at the far side of the front lawn. The roses that filled both her front and back garden must all be flowering now, waiting for her to prune them.
She gave them as much time as she did all the students she taught, fellow artists she mentored, friends & colleagues from every nook and cranny of the globe, and her mother, to whom she was devoted. The first flowers to arrive at the house came from her students at Warwick University.
We spent a lot of time in 1999, trying to get funding for Gorgons (a musical in two acts with a multicultural cast). She had written a script and had a tape with ideas for the music. We approached Arts boards and theatres in London and in Amryl's home town Coventry, to no avail. The next year, we decided we would try again in the new round of funding. In the meantime she published what would be her final anthology of poetry Calling.
The queue to purchase a ticket for "immediate travel" at the train station was long. The queue for "future travel" was empty.
"How far in advance do you have to be traveling to get a ticket from this window?" I asked the teller.
"When do you want to travel?" he asked.
"In about an hour." He smiled and sorted out a ticket for the fastest train to Coventry for me. Amryl would have enjoyed this story. We would have drunk wine, laughed loudly and toasted 'future travel' ticket booths. She had a sense of humour and joie de vivre, which was infectious. Read her poem, "Fraid tuh Make Meh Poem Rhyme" (Gorgons) to hear her laughter. She was a woman who created her own life, but more importantly knew that a person can and should create her own life. When you straddle two cultures you are simultaneously both insider and outsider.
In the anthology Gorgons, Amryl uses the myth of the Medusa to explore the lives of women in today's society. All seven characters are female and she explores different facets of the female persona through these women who are all the offspring of the Medusa, whether they are drug addict, poet, dancer, singer, etc. The offspring of a mother who can turn what she looks at to stone and can also be blind to the needs of her progeny.
After exploring mythological ideas in Gorgons, Amryl then went on to explore in her final anthology the story of the thorn bird, which spends all of its life searching for the tree upon which it will impale itself and finally producing the song which has slumbered unexpressed in its being all of its life. To Amryl this story is an allegory for the artist. What is one willing to suffer for one's art? Amryl says in her forward to Calling,
"Of all the stories I could use as my metaphor, the one of the songbird which cannot sing but is led through instinct to the
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MaComere
place where that entity which will help it to achieve what it wants, can be found; appealed the most.
Calling is about symbiosis, the coming together of two forces to create something exquisite ... of course, the cost to the bird is its own life. It dies achieving the thing it wants more than anything else in life . and we've said it "I have to write that book before I die. If I do, I'll die happy!"
[Introduction: Calling by Amryl
Johnson, Coventry, October 1999].
Through instinct and determination Amryl Johnson remained true to and pursued her calling as an African Caribbean woman writer. Her book Tread Carefully in Paradise and the autobiographical travelogue Sequins for a Ragged Hem are explorations of that identity. They examine the intense joy and the pain that is derived from being part of two cultures (British and Caribbean) and often being rejected by both. They are written in the language of both cultures, standard and Creole English, which in itself is part of the heritage of being raised in two cultures. They are explorations of what it is like to be a black woman straddling very different concepts of feminism and feminine identity in both these cultures.
Amryl has left us, the black British writers of today and tomorrow, a legacy rich in subject matter, approach, concepts and language. In the penultimate poem of Calling she says,
If colours continue to move after the artist has finished painting should she stop minutely short of the completed art allowing the colours to stretch and take on a life of their own?
If not
do the colours continue to create their own landscape
into the next century and the next and the next?
Do they do so forever?
["End Game" from Calling by Amryl Johnson]
10


Came to Find You, Talking Soft to Me like These Island Whispers
A Farewell Song
White clouds, grey streaked
Her early morning hair
waiting to be combed by sunrays parting locks of clouds.
Her frock swirling coconut branches,
lifting up high in the early morning breeze settling around her knees,
in the glassy translucence of aqua seas.
Came to find you,
speaking soft to me like these island whispers but you were gone.
Rising up in a pre-dawn breeze you decided not to wait,
ten years was too long.
Though I might have come sooner but couldn't with you gone. Came to find you,
baby, child, teenager and adult as I am but couldn't with you gone
Look it rains sweet smelling, soft and warm like your cheeks on my face.
I have grown my hair long for you, the way you would prefer it.
I will wear it in plaits.
but who will plait it?
I have come, as I came before, on other visits
I am well, mammy, daddy, all the children
Everyone is well and send their love.
Came to see you, but you had gone away. Left no address.
Pulling your skirts up,
Placing it between your knees, you said,
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MaComere
"it's time to go. After all I'm weary.
I've walked countless steps to Douglastan and back. I've sifted and sorted enough nutmeg.
I've carried enough feed for Nan, the goat, and those damn rabbits.
Baked enough bread, bun and coconut tart. It's time to rest."
your filmy eyes peering into another sunset, across the bay at Gouyave, Benago 1.
The flowers are gone.
The higgledy-piggledy rose that climbed over the door, the pots filled with flowering plants, the black sage, the thyme,
the fruit trees, except the tamarind, mango and lime, all gone. What without you, could survive?
I came to find you and you were gone.
"Child, life goes on."
Last time I saw you the sadness in your eyes, as if you knew you would not wait for my return.
I can't remember saying goodbye
I'm searching my memory to find your words to find your smile
I'm waiting for your visit in a dream. Clearer than cinematic film
I know you'll come, when time is right Breathing a soft
'bon dieu, eh, eh, oui papa.'
You'll smile, seeing the little girl of four or five
the child who knew better than to leave you behind to go to England.
The child who wept and screamed,
"Dada, Dada, come for me Dada, come for me. Don't go." "But, you going to England, to you mammy."
12


Came to Find You, Talking Soft to Me like These Island Whispers
And I was gone.
Black child, calypso in my soul,
red earth dance pounded into the soles of my feet. So many partings.
I had a dream one time that I, a skinny black child,
was walking across dry, sun-cracked savannah
with my nomad family. Old men with sticks, dogs with strange wolf-hound heads,
high arching backs and sparse, shaggy coats.
Looking for our next home Looking for home
While fierce dogs barked at us. Who will interpret my dreams?
Who can know with out the gift?
I only knew I was ancestral dreaming.
And where are you to tell me why and how? and what can I, a mere child,
know of the purpose of adults and this world?
Who am I and what do I know at the last? Except, that this final parting Hurts.
The title of this piece, "Came to Find You, Talking Soft to Me Like These Island Whispers," is a line from my poem "A Farewell Song." After my grandmother died, I tried many times to write a poem about her, but nothing worked. Probably because I was unable to go to her funeral, she was still very much alive in my headjust as she had been the last time I saw her. The conference by ACWWS was my first return to Grenada in ten years. Another first was my boat trip to Carriacou from Grenada. It was during that trip that I began to write the poem. Ifinished it while living in her house during the weeks after the conference. Arriving atAmryl's house on a crisp, frosty, bright blue, pre-spring morning brought back all thosefeelings of having to say goodbye to someone you did not see often but who always lived in your head. As with my grandmother, I came half expecting and wanting what I knew to be the case would not be true
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Renee H. Shea
"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with Writer and Painter, Marilene Phipps
A writer who paints? A painter who writes? Marilene Phipps combines the two talents with a brilliance rare in one individual as her awards for both attest. She won the Grolier Poetry Prize in 1993 and the Crab Orchard Review Poetry Prize in 2000, which resulted in publication of Crossroads and Unholy Water, a book of her collected poems. Her painting has earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995 and made her a fellow at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College and Harvard University in 1992, the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research in 1999, and the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University in 2000. Her poetry is widely published in literary journals, such as Ploughshares and the International Quarterly, and is included in several anthologies (Sisters of Caliban: Poets of the Caribbean and The Beacon Best of 1999: Creative Writing by Women and Men of All Colors). She has shown her paintings in numerous galleries and one-woman shows, and they are represented in a number of public collections, including the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro; the Bunting Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Farnsworth Museum in Rockport, Maine; the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston; and Le Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Born and raised in Haiti to a French mother and a Haitian father, Phipps moved to France with her family when she was a young girl to escape the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier. She remembers those years as sad and lonely ones and returned to Haiti when she was thirteen. She began painting early, taught initially by her mother, herself a painter. She came to the United States to study at the University of California at Berkeley, where she majored in anthropology. Raised a Catholic, she began exploring vodou within an anthropological framework. She received her MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, where she began painting the landscapes of Haiti that incorporated images of the land of her birth and the spiritual world of vodou. Her work has been described as mixing realism and expressionism in bold landscapes depicting the mythology of Haitian people.
On the book jacket of Crossroads and Unholy Water, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa describes her writing: "These poems are earned; they are woven around the breastpin of experience. In fact, this collection embraces awe and woe through curses and praise that unearth a meeting place for the unspeakable as well as culminant beautya book of acknowledgment and ritual." These poems range from portraits of characters from Phipps' Haitian past to voices "Out for Some Bread on Flatbush Ave" from her life in the United States. Some are lyrical celebrations of the Haitian landscape, as these lines from "Outdoor Birthday PartyFather's Fortieth":
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"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with... Marilene Phipps
Calabash trees paraded green fruits
along their brown arms the way ladies
wore rows of noisy bangles. Silver
glowed beneath their ears like on the underside
of callimite leaves ruffled by breeze.
Palm trees were coifed with a full moon.
Others combine the political and the personal, as in "Haitian Masks":
I saw my godfather's face
on the newspaper's front page, large,
written out as the rebel, caught
by the blue-vested Macoutes.
He had a new mustache.
I missed his gaze, deep chestnut.
fat fingers gripped
his young man's hair
as if it were a big knot
at the top end of a loose rope, his neck
cut off.
Phipps published a nonfiction piece entitled "Pour Water on my Head: A Meditation on a life of Painting and Poetry" in The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, edited by Edwidge Danticat (2001). Her most recent work is a short story, "Down by the River," published in 2001 in Transitions Magazine.
Writer? Painter? When asked how she would define herself, Phipps gave the question to her daughter Valentine, who chose not to choose, claiming her mother is "both a painter who writes and a writer who paints."
RS: When you wake in the morning, how do you know if it's a writing or a painting day?
MP: It has to do with which I have done the day before or the week before. If I have started a big painting, the pace needs to be kept until the painting is finished. When I used to write poetry, it wasn't a matter of deciding which it was going to be that day: poetry was usually written at night. When I wasn't sleeping, my mind would keep on going, and in the morning I would take notes, jot down ideas. Then when I have a couple of hours, I look at it, play with it, reorder it. Poetry has to do with daydreaming, time that you can disperse during the day or night.
Painting needs a longer stretch of time, of thought focused on one project. A lot of painting is not just the painting process but also preparing. I'm not the type of
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painter who comes in front of the canvas out of blank and then decides as to what my subconscious reveals that day. I plan my paintingsthe way they are structured on canvas as far as space and everything. I structure them in my mind and study the color scheme I'm going to use. I build them up mentally, and then I build them up physicallyand then I start painting.
RS: So the one doesn't necessarily suggest the other? You're saying they tend to be more separate, that there's not a synergy?
MP: I imagine somewhere at a subconscious level there is a synergy because they come from the same place, and probably the same issues that interest me in one interest me in the other.
RS: But one's a daytime activity, the other night?
MP: So far yes, but, now that I have started writing short stories, they are taking big gulps of daytime. That's working out right now for me because for family purposes I have to go to Haiti more often than I used to. My years are being very chopped up, so that affects my painting time. I'm constantly interrupted.
RS: And also you can write when you're away, even in transit.
MP: That's true. The painting requires a whole set-up: it would mean traveling with paint, canvases, stretchers, easel, brushes, supplies... I cannot just jot down a few colors anyway and come back to it. Writing, I can take notes, I can write in the airport or anywhereand I do. I don't have to have a computer; I still have a hand.
RS: Fiction is a new form for you. Are you writing more now?
MP: In some ways, it's always been fiction. My poetry is narrative on the whole, and for me, short stories are longer poems. The one in Transitions is structured like an old-fashioned short story, but, in the ones I'm writing now, I'm taking more liberty. They seem more poetry, meditations. I don't know exactly what form they are.
RS: Are you writing a series of stories that will be interrelated?
MP: Yes, though whether I'll be able to achieve it, I don't know. I want each story to function independently as a publishable piece but eventually to be a sequence that will take the reader toward one thing.
RS: Which is?
16


"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with .. Marilene Phipps MP: You know I can't say yet!
RS: Will the stories take place in Haiti? "Down by the River" was set in Haiti but ended with Angelina [a central character] on her way to New York.
MP: That story could be pivotal for the book because others will take place before and after. People have expressed an interest in what happens to Angelina, for one. I have an idea of how I'm going to make it hold together, but, until one has the piece in hand, you can't tell whether it works or not.
RS: Are you sending pieces out for publication or waiting until it's all together to publish as a book?
MP: It's not so planned as all that. Sending material requires a kind of secretarial work and time. I remember how much energy it took sending out poems, preparing a manuscript.... Right now, I have the ideas, and I want to devote the time I have to the work itself.
RS: "Down by the River" is published with paintings surrounding the text in the magazine, some your work, some not. Did you put the paintings together? For me, it seems to read as one text with paintings and fiction.
MP: They do seem to fit, but, no, I did not put them together. Once the piece was accepted, the editor, knowing I am a painter, asked whether I had any paintings that would serve well with the text. He himself did some research, as he always does, to find material that would be suitable. He came up with some, and so did I. I go back to your earlier question: I don't write relating one thing to the other, but since they come from the same unconscious and the same things that move me, my own personal issues and stories, it was not hard to find things within my painting world that would support the writing.
RS: I'm so awed by your multiple talentspainting and writingbut also by your utter mastery of language. You grew up speaking French and studied in French schools, yet here you are writing beautiful poetry in English. When did you begin writing? Did you keep journals? In French? When did you turn to English?
MP: I made several attempts to keep journals when I was young, but I've never been able to keep it up. I learned English in French schools, which gave me an advantage because it's such a rigorous training: I had a very good grammatical base. The transition to writing in English came maybe some ten years ago. I had stopped writing because I had gone to Berkeley to university. Actually writing in English came with
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the help of a friend. It was difficult for me language-wise because something could be technically correct grammatically, but then the friend would tell me, "You don't say that in English." Those are the feelings about the language that you can't really learn. Eventually you get it, but it was very frustrating. So, I gave up writing for a while. That same person encouraged me and tried to show me the simplicity of English writingthe short, clear, focused sentences. I was so good at doing those Proustian long sentences that never end! That had carried me through all my school years, getting me the Baccalaureate with honors. It was hard for me to get away from that skill. It was like giving up something so loaded with my sense of self, my pride.
It was very frustrating. I had to redefine my sense of self, my way of relating to the world. I realize as I am saying it how much the way we speak and, perhaps, write influences the way we experience the world. These are issues of language I don't have the knowledge to talk about, but for myself, I realized how much was tangled up in how I wrote, how I spoke, how language is what we use to experience and also to express what we experiencethe two are intertwined in ways that are very complex.
So this friend encouraged me, and eventually I made the transition and daredI dared.
RS: You infuse your writing, both poetry and fiction, with Creole, which seems crucial to your work. Can you talk about how you decide when to use it?
MP: It's very importantit's the sound of language, the sounds of a people, the rhythm, the music. Imagine writing about the French and not knowing what the language sounds like. You have to get a few sounds to get an echo; it's like a flavor, a spice.
RS: But what about audience? The poems are written in English, you have an English publisher, so is your audience English? What about Haitians or the Haitian diaspora?
MP: Obviously the audience is English-speaking. But ultimately the writing should be more than local. It matters, of course, that I write in English. The audience that's Haitian and the audience that's English don't react the same way or for the same reasons. It's actually more rewarding to have an English audience react well. You're not relying on any kind of pleasure that comes from memory of the same thing. It really has to be the work able to convey something universalthe skill to make something alive for readers that is not already alive in their heart or memory. Audiences familiar with Haiti may relish a poem because I'm talking about a world they know, that's familiar, whereas if I can reach an audience not Haitian, it must be the quality of the work. I was just reading an article in The New York Times ["Expanding Boundaries with a Colonial Legacy," 30 July 2001] by Shashi Tharoor,
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"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with ... Marilene Phipps
an Indian writer who discusses this very question of what its like for an Indian writer to write in English when only 2% of the population of India speaks English.
It's very hard because the purpose of art is communicating, and we like to think there are universals of exchange which can allow all people from everywhere to reach each other, but sometimes we are confronted with boundaries.
RS: In that article, Tharoor claims that for writers, "addresses don't matter because writers really live inside their heads and on the page, and geography is merely a circumstance." Do you agree?
MP: Yes, writers do live inside their heads, but what's inside is not a fixed place. Also, in a sense we all live inside our headsit is our head that processes the "real" world, whichever country it happens be in the moment and to have been in the past. How (and where) we live in our head is itself a construct. There are as many realities as there are heads. It could be that writers prefer to live more in the experience/feeling part of that construct whereas others prefer to live more in the "real" world part of that construct.
RS: I want to turn to your poetry collection, starting with the title. Where did Crossroads and Unholy Water come from?
MP: That title was originally something that came from the top of my mind from a collection of notes from talking to people. I always keep notes, and on one particular trip, I had more extensive notes than usual: putting them on the computer, I came up with that title. In a sense, Crossroads and Unholy Water is perfect for my writing. We encounter crossroads daily or yearly or monthly. We encounter circumstances, events, internal debates where we make choices. Significant moments can be of environment, situation, internal moments of crossroads or external ones or sometimes a bit of both. "Unholy water": there's so much of water connected to life and to crossroads. If you think of birth, there's a crossroads connected to some form of water. And baptism.
RS: The first section is much like a portrait gallery of the community: "Man Nini," "Oksilya," "Aunt Frances the Pianist," and "Emma." Are these real people?
MP: Aunt Frances did exist. Man Nini also. Some of the names have remained, like Aunt Frances, and most of the stories I've gleaned from real people. I haven't always preserved the name, and I have compiled and compressed different stories into one to get a point across.
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MaComere
RS: Many of the poemsmost, I thinkare written in first person. I hear you in ones such as "Outdoor Birthday PartyFather's Fortieth," yet in others there is an "I" that seems more elusive, such as the "I" who speaks in "Emma" or even in that sassy poem in the second section "I COULD BLOW SOME NASTY
POWDERS OVER THESE New York streets____" Why do you stay in first
person when the speaker is obviously not yourself?
MP: I think the "I" is a way of engaging the reader in a more direct fashion. If you read about Emma, then it's outside of the reader and the writer, but if you read, "I," it's more direct: it forces the attention so the reader and writer are in a dialogue. I am telling you a story, so it helps you focus. But also, at a certain level, the reader is not really in the presence of the writer so that the writer's "I" becomes interposed with the reader's "I," which makes for more intimate and direct communication. It makes more demands on the reader's involvement in the world. The whole endeavor is about communication, and perhaps I find that is the best way of involving someone in communication.
RS: I love the poem "Pink" for that line "You've got to know what's yours in life." I'm trying to figure that out myself!
MP: Ah, me too, but that's dangerous because by the time you figure it out, it's no longer yours ..
RS: The collection has three subtitles: "Caribbean Beginnings," "Life in Neret," and "Vigils." The first two seem pretty straightforward, but what about "Vigils"? That's such a solemn word, and it bears a sense of sadness and foreboding.
MP: It's connected to the other two in a sense. The book with its big title tries to encompass the possibility of a whole lifetime, the decisions and crossroads and rites of passage connected to different forms of water, which is an ancient symbol of life. These, then, are three partschildhood, adulthood, and old age. Old age is a time of vigil, of waiting, a sense of preparation. It seems as though the whole life is in preparation of that time, which is itself a preparation for something afterwardswhich I happen to believe in .. most days ...
RS: I see this in some of the poems, like "Cousin Therese" or "Old, Useless and Ugly," but what about "Niska and the Snake"? That's such an unusual onelet me quote some lines: It opens,"... honey you are a dead duck!" and later on "Babe, I'm gonna weed you out of my / grass! Your name may be Water Moccasin and you think / this water's for your roaming but my name / ain't Eve."
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"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with . Marilene Phipps
Then, there's the wild address ending with "GOTCHA." You clearly had fun here, but what's that "GOTCHA" about?!
MP: Well, death as a tricksterwhich is very Haitianhas a sense of "gotcha" at the end. And, if one really believes there is something afterwards, you should be in a hurry to die! There's also the desire not to leave anybody with a sense of sadness, brooding, and despair. It's a courtesy to the readers. I don't want to bring them down and leave them down; I've taken you for a ride, and I don't want to just drop you on the side of the road.
So, I think perhaps there is a suggestion of looking at the whole journey with a sense of humor. Maybe it's not necessarily death that is "gotcha," but "gotcha" in a sense of mastery and control. It's Niska who says "Gotcha," so you can take it that the person who wants to go on the journey has a sense of mastery, the sense that I understand what it's all aboutokay, I get it, and I'm still here. It's a back and forth theme, what you call in English that gametag.
RS: I want to turn to some comments you've made in other interviews. When you were talking about your refusal to paint the violence associated with Haiti in the news media, you said, "But there's enough torment, and I don't want to add to it. My paintings are about my love for Haiti... the beauty of the simple life, a place where communication is important." But I don't think that's true of your poetry, is it? Your poems often depict violence graphically, almost to confront the reader.
MP: First of all, when I said that, I was painting different paintings. I was actually painting purely landscapes and houses. It was at the time when the boat people were all over the papers, and it was always about the sadness of Haitians. So, in the visual world, artists are supposed to be engaged, to be politically correct and conscious. It was a time when installation art was in vogue, and there's always some sort of political, social, or psychological comment going on. It seems that the person who asked the question was asking whether painting happy houses did not seem to fit with what Haiti is about. I've been doing paintings of altars and shrines of Haiti, which have to do with the spiritual world of Haitians, and now I'm hoping to get back to the landscapes.
But, the personal is often the political, though sometimes a bit more veiled. I do think there's a lot of violence in the paintings. Even when I was painting houses, I was painting graveyards. There is an implied violence there. Even if it seems more of a grazing place for cows and goats, there is the implied violence of loss, the rituals associated with passing, mourning, with human beings' attempt to understand and absorb death. But in a painting like "St. Ursula's Passion" or "Death and Rebirth," I don't know if it's violence. It has the many aspects of life, and there is a brutality about life and the things that happen to us. The most basic for all of us is to lose
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significant ones, beginning with parents, so violence is something we have to deal with.
Perhaps in the painting it's not so obvious because the violence or the brutalityI prefer the word "brutality" because for me violence implies a kind of premeditated actis not so direct. In a painting, we are distracted by other aspects where in the writing, unless one thinks of something else altogether, there is no distraction from what one is reading.
RS: In the poem "Ti Kikit," for instance, there's no turning away from the graphic depiction of the rape.
MP: You see, people ask me whether I would choose writing or painting, but "Ti Kikit" could not be a painting. I could never tell that in a painting. I need both.
In a painting, if you look at it and the subject matter is too intense or overwhelming, you have formal things to distract and please you, to reduce the impact. You have colors, volume, space; you have time to gaze and daydream. You have time for your own world to come in; you can look somewhere else. People don't look at paintings the way they used to. We're used to television, shifting images, MTV, so we don't focus on one image as, perhaps, one might have in previous times. So it is easier to let oneself be distracted from an image and not suffer its impact as much as one has to suffer the impact of what one reads. If you're reading it, it's there with you: you cannot avoid it.
The skilled painter will direct your "reading" of a painter somewhat because there are formal tricks in how to lead the eye. You can make the eye travel, but you cannot force it to focus on a particular detail or passage. Even sometimes a brush stroke can be a very violent or cruel thingwhere it is applied, the color, the directionbut that only the painter knows, and you cannot force the viewer to look at that at a particular moment and to feel it. With words, one can be so much more precise. A painter can be very precise in the glint you put in an eye, but you cannot force the viewer to look at that glint in any particular way. When you read, you're taken on a journey.
RS: But the interpretation may differ. The same text may take you and me on very different journeys.
MP: I agree that the experience of the journey will be different, and that has to do with our own inner worlds. But you can't be distracted completely. If you daydream so much, you might miss the previous sentence. But for a painting, you can go away for a time, and that reduces the impact.
RS: You emailed me that you are now painting on the theme of "Remember the Mountain." What are you trying to do with that series?
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"A Prayer for Haiti": A Conversation with .
. Marilene Phipps
MP: I don't want to jinx it since I really haven't gotten much more than that. I had a bit of a spiritual experience. I won't go into detail, but I had a message from my father at a time when I had some emotional difficulties, and he said, "Remember the mountain." I took it at many levels. One is that the last time I saw my father in Haiti [before he died], he was showing me the view of the bay in the distance, so I took that advice: in times of trouble, take some distance, look higher up, and you'll have a clearer view. This was just the physical in the sense that this is what we were experiencing on the mountain itself.
Also, "remember the mountain" is remembering him, and in remembering him, remember where you come from, your roots; remember your family, remember your country, remember yourself. In a larger sense, remember where you come fromultimately, we come from somewhere else in the earth. The Christians describe us as fallen angels. I was reading "The Apocalypse" yesterday, and there is a passage about the angel saying remember where from you fell. So, in a sense, remember your physical land, our ancestors, your inner being that comes from some other place. So it could potentially be for me a whole spiritual search, which has to do with celebrating Haiti, celebrating the land of my father, but also celebrating the energy of the universe that created such beauty. The mountains are such beautiful things; I'll never do them justiceI can only do an interpretation. Paul Klee wrote that art does not reproduce the visible; it makes things visible. I guess in trying to do the mountain, I am not trying to reproduce the visible; I'm trying to make something visible that is both physical and internal.
RS: In "Pour Water on My Head," you write, "If either painting or poetry can be seen as a form of prayer, one could say that the brightness of my images is a prayer for Haiti itself." Do you see poetry and painting as forms of prayer?
MP: Yes, prayer as a form of meditation. It's a prayer in a sense of celebration. Somebody asked me once why I write, and I said, "I write because God is generous." And it means two things. Because God is generous, there is something to celebrate, and writing and also painting is the way I can celebrate that. And he was generous enough to have given me the possibility of the talent for writing and painting. So it is a prayer going outward in celebration of a larger universe and then also what we have devised as a being or an energy or whatever God is.
It's a prayer also because it's a going inside, a focusing. It's looking for the best in oneself. When we pray, we thank and we also request that good things happen to us, but we also pray that the best in us ethically is brought out. We request elevation for ourselves. Not only in practical ways but also elevations of our soul. And in order to paint and to write, in a sense we are going inward and looking for those aspects of ourselves which can be the most elevating and are worth bringing out.
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This interview took place between Renee Shea and Marilene Phipps via the telephone and email during July 2001.
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Introducing the Chapel
Marilene Phipps
Introducing the Chapel
I am a chapel. A simple white pentagon of roughcast cement blocks, aired through two wooden doors and cedar shutters. The past haunts and decorates me. The present crosses me from one door to the other like someone running after a second chance. The future takes its cues from the sky. Over the mountain ridge in the near distance, clouds emerge, mistful of light, in patterns reminiscent of smoke messages the likes of which one might fantasize were sent by Caribs, first inhabitants of our Haiti. When the evening comes, God's face then is a nightful of stars that lay to rest on the nearby tadpole water.
It rained a short while ago. A loud tropical downpour the way I love them. Sometimes, I hear its gallop first, coming from the mountain. Then, progressively, rain is like drapes being pulled from tree to tree. Behind its stage curtain, nature rehearses this stock piece: the earth's cells become engorged with water; holes darken; great succulent plants bow their wide-leafed heads to camouflage and store deep green belly laughs; mahogany trees bend long blackened necks; drums are at my doors; cymbals percolate on my rooftop.
Rain stops as suddenly as it starts. Maestro made a final gesture. But silence rumbles still. The stream running below the garden terraces has swollen immensely. Water spirits who inhabit me want to be revered and their hopeful sighs ripple through my blood. My ears are attuned to every life murmur in this great park where the one who built me only planted fruit-bearing trees, besides mahogany. Everything breathes in a heavy, moist smell of moss musk. It is the time when dizzied breadfruits will let go of the branch and the thud on my roof vibrates inside me like an ill bee.
It is then too that roosters feel they must announce the end of rain. Here, they'll kick up a din for any occasion. It is much too joyful a feeling this throatful of shrill to be let out just for the once-a-day-at-dawn affair. Afterwards, dogs think they must respond with a throatful of bark. And so it goes on with no respite, this back and forth banter, because here, island territory, it would seem that roosters don't sleep at night, though they perch. Dogs neither sleep nor perch. They are tied down somewhere in the nearby slums whose gray fossils' framework hangs amidst bushes at the foot of the mountain. It is as if everything is held, somehow, at the foot of something greater, be it dogs, slums, people or me. I lie at the foot of the one I love.
"Introducing the Chapel" is the introduction to a longer story called "The Chapel," which itself is part of a manuscript in progress with the working title Angelina's Mothers.
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MaComere
Christian Wolff
An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson grew up all over the Caribbean, from her native Jamaica to Trinidad and Guyana. At age sixteen, she moved to Canada, and now works out of Toronto. Hopkinson holds an undergraduate degree in Russian with a minor in French as well as a graduate degree in creative writing from Michigan State University.
Her first novel Brown Girl in the Ring was published in 1998 and won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. It was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award and won the Locus First Novel Award. Her second novel, Midnight Robber, was published in 2000 and was named New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Nalo Hopkinson is the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for Emerging Writers. She has been a juror for the James R. Tiptree Award for speculative fiction which explores gender and gender roles, the William Crawford Award for first novels, and the Quebec Writers' Federation Maclennan Award for Fiction. More recently, she has edited the collection Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction. She is currently working on her third novel, Griffonne, while pursuing a long distance M. A. in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill College in Greensburg, PA. In December 2001, a collection of her short fiction, Skin Folk, will be released.
In her second novel, Midnight Robber, Hopkinson presents the story of Tan-Tan, who is exiled from her home planet of Tousaint as a young girl. Cast into the punitive colony of New Half-Way Tree, she is forced to fight for recognition and liberate herself from her abusive father. She does so by adopting the defiant carnival persona of the Midnight Robber and interpreting it in a powerful new version: the Robber Queen.
CW: What made you want to be a writer, and what was the particular appeal of the science fiction genre for you? Have you always worked in this field?
NH: I'm a writer in the fantastical genres of science fiction and fantasy, and I will always be, so long as I'm writing fiction. As to why I wanted to become a writer, it's the artistic tradition I was surrounded with growing up. My father was a poet, playwright and English teacher. My mother worked in libraries. Science fiction and fantasy appeal to me because of the subversive possibilities of them. I can, for instance, create a world in which fat women are seen as luscious and desirable, or I can exaggerate and thereby call into question political conditions that currently exist in this world.
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An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
CW: Most people probably regard Caribbean folktales and science fiction as two completely unconnected worlds. Do you see any convergences, stylistically and/or thematically, between the two?
NH: Science fiction and fantasy tend to look respectively at the future and the past, and they both examine the results of humanity's efforts to understand, explain and manipulate our environments, whether through devising tools, machines, methods of enquiry or ritual codes of behaviour. Folklore is one such system. Folktales encode mores and archetypes in story so that they are easily taught and passed on by word of mouth. So yes, wherever the folklore might originate, I do see lots of possible convergences between folklore and science fiction and fantasy, and so have many other writers. In fact there's a whole subgenre of fantasy that consists of contemporary revisitings of ancient folktales. What's different is my using Caribbean folklore in science fiction and fantasy. There are only a handful of Caribbean writers in the genre, so a Caribbean worldview is not one that the genre experiences often.
CW: Do you write with a specific audience in mind, and how has Midnight Robber been received by the science fiction community and/or a Caribbean audience?
NH: I don't write with a specific audience in mind. I try instead to write the kind of fiction I would like to read. I don't know how successful that project is, but it is quite deliberate that I'm trying to insert a sensibility like mine (and here I'm referring not only to my racial and cultural background, but to any of the other experiences and points of view written in my body and my history) into this literature that I've read since I was a girl, that is so open to new ideas in many other arenas but that seems to have a limited analysis around racial politics. The prevailing attitude seems to be that, if we all just ignored racial differences, racial prejudice would disappear. I suspect that's left little room for people to have a voice who want to talk about and read about power and access as they impinge on race. It is very possible to do it though, and there are some writers who do.
It's too soon to know haw Midnight Robber is going to be received by different audiences. So far the reviews have been positive. Science fiction reviewers have tended to tell readers that they might find my use of Creole disconcerting at first. I'm not used to that. It never occurred to me that it would be considered unusual because I'm so used to literature written in the English dialects of one place or another. I've also had commentary where the reviewers took pains to opine that the novel could be viewed as fantasy rather than science fiction. I'm not certain where they get that reading because the novel is set in a technologically advanced society and there is no hint of supernatural beings or phenomena. I'm interested in why that's being said, though, because I'd like to know where the comment comes from. One thing I cherish is that what my work is doing is giving me a sense of where the Caribbean readers of science fiction and fantasy are. Some of them take pains to
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contact me when they like what I'm doing. It's always a pleasant surprise because the assumption is that science fiction and fantasy are literatures enjoyed only by European people.
CW: Do you see Midnight Robber as a Utopian novel, or would you agree with Samuel Delany that science fiction cannot be Utopian but has to reflect social dynamism in order to avoid being tyrannical?1
NH: I'd have to read more of what Delany said to know if I agree with him. I do know that few Utopian novels have worked for me; in fact, the only one I can think of is at the moment is Kim Stanley Robinson's Pacific Edge, and I think it works because it does reflect dynamism and dissent in communities. I don't really see Midnight Robber as a Utopian novel. The world of Toussaint has been set up to be as civilized as its designer could think to make it, in that the wealth of a fraction of the world no longer rests on the labour of most of its inhabitants, but it's not perfect.
CW: The introduction calls New Half-Way Tree the Adub version of Toussaint, the characters' home planet. What themes and characteristics of dub poetry do you see reflected in your depiction of that planet?
NH: I was thinking more of dub music. When I moved to Jamaica as a young teen, I was introduced to the concept of the dub side of a record, which contained more or less the melody, but with no words, and lots of bass. Listening to the dub side, you can hear complexities that have gone into creating the skeleton of the music that my untrained ear couldn't hear in the A side. New Half Way Tree is Toussaint without the layering on of humanity and human systems.
CW: The Midnight Robber is traditionally a very male figure in Trinidadian Old Mas' Carnival. What are the implications of making him the ideal Tan-Tan [the novel's female protagonist] aspires to from the very beginning of her involvement in carnival? How does her impersonation of the character as "Robber Queen" replicate and differ from traditional Midnight Robber qualities?
NH: You'd have to tell me what implications you see. If I wrote fiction as political premise first, my writing process would be very different. I came to the image out of glee. One day I was reading an ancient issue of Caribbean Quarterly; one devoted entirely to the historical practices of carnival. One article described the Midnight Robber mas' and in passing made mention of Belle Starr, the only woman the author knew to have played Midnight Robber.2 And of course the woman in me perked up at the notion of a female Midnight Robber, and of perhaps an invisible history of female Midnight Robbers. I started first from the empowering notion of how cool and butch it would be as a woman to play/be this physically imposing and arresting character who
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An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
has at gunpoint reclaimed ownership of her body and her right to tell her story. Of course, Midnight Robbers never hurt anyone with their guns; words are both their weapons and their defense, much like those of calypsonians. They don't need external weapons; their tongues are powerful enough. The notion of giving a woman a similar type of physical power and agency to that of a man continues to be a compelling one in this time. In Tan-Tan's time though, that's no big deal. Noone sees her fascination with being a Midnight Robber as a gender-bending choice. It allows me to draw readers into a world where both women and men have more choices for how to express their personalities; it's not so bound up in social constructions of masculinity and femininity. As Robber Queen, Tan-Tan willy nilly brings a woman's body and a woman's concerns to the roles. She tries at first to hide certain aspects of her femaleness, but eventually they reveal themselves and she has to deal with them.
CW: In her final speech, Tan-Tan not only confesses to the killing of her father but justifies her action in a way that seems to affirm agency for women in the face of patriarchal oppression in general. However, her adversary in that speech is a woman, her stepmother. What do you see as the ramifications of that final stand-off?
NH: I don't entirely agree with you. Tan-Tan justifies her actions by pointing out that she had used the tool she was given in the desperate circumstances in which she found herself. And she was given that tool with no explanation by someone who was being otherwise complicit in her abuse. Tan-Tan was pushed to the limit of her tolerance in an atmosphere of secrecy and torture, and she reacted. I do believe that agency for women is vital, but I wouldn't say that that speech speaks to my entire political position on the complex issue of societally condoned oppression of women. And yes, it's quite possible for women to be adversarial to other people, including to other women. For me, the ramification of that final stand-off is that the other woman acknowledges and ceases her part in the abuse that Tan-Tan has endured.
CW: Tan-Tan constantly has to leave "home" in the course of the novel, being exiled first from Toussaint, and later moving between different communities on New Half-Way Tree. How does this diasporic experience affect her? Would you say that, because of her position as a woman, exile has a different, perhaps more ambivalent, meaning for her than, say, for her father? Along the same line, Midnight Robber reads like a classic bildungsroman in some respects. However, unlike in familiar rites-of-passage-narratives which necessitate the separation, living on the margins, and reintegration of the hero/ine into her/his community, Tan-Tan does not return to her home planet at the end. What is the meaning of her remaining on new Half-Way Tree?
NH: She can't go back to Toussaint. You can't go home again. Even her home wasn't home. A few weeks ago I heard scholar Mary Hanna say that the notion of
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exile in Caribbean literature has become a positive thing rather than a negative one. The comment struck me because, like many of my peers living outside the Caribbean, my experience has been a diasporic one. As a result, home for me is a temporary zone (though, Pace Hakim Bey, not always an autonomous one). Home is where I've chosen to accumulate my stuff, and my ideal is to have a few such zones. Home is when I feel surrounded by chosen community, and that's always short-lived and partial. So I've come to a notion that home is fluid, changeable and accretes around the resident rather than being a concrete, stationery place to which the resident goes. I doubt that I'm alone in that. So Tan-Tan doesn't go back home; she begins to learn to gather comfort and community around herself. She attracts home to her. After all, how does someone re-integrate into a community with which she is at odds? Tan-Tan's values have changed, and her needs. Even could she return to Toussaint, she'd have to learn how to create home for herself there, too.
CW: A victim of continued sexual abuse by her father, Tan-Tan has an abortion in her early teens and is pregnant again throughout the latter part of the novel. She finally decides to give birth to this second child. Why?
NH: I think she's around thirteen during the first pregnancy. She doesn't decide to give birth to the second child. She would happily have aborted it, but circumstances kept the means to do so from her, and by the time she got to a settlement that could likely have helped her, the foetus was practically at term; it was too late. What she does do is come to a sense of determination that, having carried the child to term while enduring peril to herself, she was damned well going to retain the autonomy to care for it. Tan-Tan is thrown into circumstances where she doesn't have many choices around pregnancy and childbirth. She exercises what choice she does have, which is the choice to decide to be a caring parent. Partly my decision to write it that way comes from being aware that, despite the existence of effective birth control methods, most women in the world still have very limited choices around parenthood. Science fiction isn't so much about projecting into the future; it's about turning a lens onto the present.
CW: What are your reasons for using patois in your writing? How does the specific narrative perspective affect your choice of language in different parts of the novel? In your writing in general?
NH: I use it partly because it feels beautiful and natural to my ears. Realize that I live away and have for more than two decades; I no longer hear Creoles very often. Writing the ones I know temporarily invokes a space I no longer inhabit much any more. In Midnight Robber, though, I was specifically talking about language and about how peoples, who as part of being colonized, have had a language forced on them can turn around and remold that same language in a conscious or unconscious
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An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
resistance. Hence "Stolen Song," the poem at the beginning of the novel, which David Findlay graciously allowed me to quote.
CW: Could you comment on your use of names in the novel? What traditions/histories did you draw on and why?
NH: The people in the novel are multiracial, as the Caribbean is. I wanted to signal that. lone Brasil, Antonio Habib, Doctor Kong, Quashee Cumberbatch, Maka, all reflect a number of Caribbean histories. They have (or I hope they have) echoes of West African, continental Indian and Asian, Spanish, Portuguese and Maroon participation in the Caribbean. One of the embedded "folk tales" in the novel is based on a story from the indigenous peoples.
CW: Contemporary theory has fluctuated between regarding carnival as either a celebratory inversion of dominant social structures or as a reaffirmation of those very structures in the process of channeling and containing popular discontent. Where would you position Midnight Robber's depiction of carnival in this debate? Is there a difference in the significance of carnival as practiced on Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree, respectively?
NH: I wouldn't position the depiction of carnival in Midnight Robber in that debate at all because it wasn't one of which I've been cognizant, not as an existing dynamic of opposing arguments, anyway. Why can't carnival be both and more besides? Carnival on Toussaint has been institutionalized. It is a weird dichotomy, an institutionalized period of license. That's always been the dilemma of carnival. Carnival on New Half Way Tree is a romanticized memory. They're trying to recreate a feeling from a land to which they'll never return. And they may eventually succeed in rebuilding the systems and institutions which remake New Half Way Tree into an image of Toussaint.
CW: Granny Nanny is the system that spies on and provides for the inhabitants of Toussaint. Which aspects of Jamaica's national heroine Nanny did you incorporate into this construct? What do you see as the implications of the adoption of folktales for political ends?
NH: I set it up that the artificial intelligence nicknamed "Granny Nanny" (Grande Nanotech Sentient Interface) was not initially named after Granny Nanny. It's a nickname that humans jokingly gave her some time after her creation, so there isn't necessarily a neat correlation between her characteristics and those of the freedom fighter Nanny of the Maroons. Granny Nancy's web (I also deliberately conflated the name with Brer Anansi) does not spy on the populace in the sense that her surveillance is not covert; it's known and has been contracted for. It's also known that she's programmed for privacy unless she judges that someone is suffering harm and that
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that might be changed by her intervening. Yes, it's a nuisance and an intrusion. It's accepted as a trade-off for greater protection for those who need it and for quality of life. Those who created and inhabited the planet saw it so and went to live on Toussaint knowingly under those terms. Some people would rather not have Granny Nanny's surveillance, and those can to some extent opt out. But there are qualities of the legendary Nanny (the story behind the history, as opposed to the real woman behind that story) which the artificial intelligence is seen to share: she feels a bond of duty to the humans in her care, and she functions as an advocate for their well-being. As Anansi she teaches through story and song, and she can be capricious (certainly the house eshus that are her eyes and hands can3) because she is a sentient entity who grows and changes. As to the adoption of folktales for political ends, it happens. Folktales feel like sort of cultural artifactsor more like cultural sourdough starter, perhapsthat people take and retell to suit their own purposes. All storytelling has political ends and sometimes those ends are unfortunately more about enforcing conformity than about encouraging self-awareness.
CW: Toussaint's parliament is referred to as "Palaver House." This seems to resonate with Midnight Robbers' attacks on contemporary politics in Trinidadian carnival. What are your criticisms of the political process, and what made you want to explore the themes that you take on in Midnight Robber? Could you name certain topics that pervade your writing in general, and have there been social or political developments that have impacted your choice of those topics?
NH: I was going to simply pass on these questions, but I realized that I do have opinions about politics, so I decided to think about why I didn't want to answer them. And it's because if I wanted to lay out all my opinions chapter and verse I'd be writing essays, not fiction. I want to tell stories. Most of my politicization has come through reading fiction for the enjoyment of it, and along with the stories being slipped ideas that made me think, question, sometimes made me disagree vehemently with the text. Partly I don't want to answer the questions because I've answered so many from other people, and sometimes I prefer for people to read my fiction and take away what they will from it, rather than asking me to dissect it and analyze it for them. That's a process of deconstruction, whereas I come to writing fiction from a process of synthesis, of trying to make stories that are informed by the ideas I've absorbed over the years. I don't want to reverse that process by disassembling my own work into its component parts; it sort of feels like being asked to destroy it. So I'm being resistant.
CW: Could you see Midnight Robber being turned into a film? Who would you cast for the role of Tan-Tan?
NH: I can certainly imagine someone optioning my work for film (I'm sure I could find uses for the money!), but I think that, of the novels I have written, Brown Girl in the Ring is the better bet: fewer special effects and settings, simpler story. Some of my
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An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
short stories might also work better. Novels are generally just too long to squelch effectively into a 90-minute format. I actually don't enjoy the notion of seeing my work interpreted into film. I'm surprised that this is the question that people always seem to ask me, as though it's the ultimately desirable culmination of my efforts. Whenever I imagine my work as film, I remember Whoopi Goldberg's attempting and failing utterly at a Jamaican accent in Clara's Heart. It was agonizing to listen to. But that's the mainstream film industry's notion of Caribbean culture, much as I love Whoopi Goldberg. Science fiction and fantasy with all their toys, gadgets, nonexistent beings and impossible settings are so much more vividly imagined in the mind than on film; I'd still rather have text. The only science fiction and fantasy film I've seen that I found convincing and visually compelling was Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury novel. It looked the way I had imagined it, and it seemed to stick fairly closely to the writer's original vision. Bradbury lucked out on that one.
I don't know who would play the role of Tan-Tan; I don't watch enough film to have an opinion. Depending on how the novel was adapted, it would need four actresses because Tan-Tan is seen at ages seven, nine, thirteen, and sixteen. Would be pretty demanding on them too, what with the stuff she has happen to her. I'm more interested in who would be the director, and I'd fervently hope it would be someone Caribbean who reads science fiction and fantasy, which narrows the field considerably. My agent is trying to interest people in my novels as film properties, and, if that ever happens, I'm aware that the project then becomes the director's; it'd no longer be my vision, but hers, except that it would have the same title as my work, some of the same characters, and some similarities in plot structure.
CW: What are you working on right now? What are some of the things you would like to address in your writing in the future? Do you think you've made conscious efforts to change your style, and, if so, how would you describe that change?
NH: I have finished work on an anthology of Caribbean fabulist fiction.4 I'm currently working on Griffonne, my third novel. It will use a fantastical device to link the lives of three or four black historical characters from different countries and time periods. Overarching themes will probably end up being sexuality, race and power. But I'm always surprised at what metaphors end up being worked through in my stories, so really I'm talking through my hat at this point. In the future, I think I might like to address the tyranny of work, the way that the well-being of a few has always been built on the backs of a desperately unfortunate many, and how that "many" gets constructed and then othered. Or I may just think about it a lot and never end up writing it. I will see what develops.
I think I'm developing a better sense of the "bumps" in my writing. In other words, I'm learning to pay attention to when a word or phrase pokes out, and to think about why that might be, whether it's a good thing or not, and to fiddle with it if I
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decide it's not. I hope in the long run it'll mean that my writing veers towards showing instead of telling. I have been trying to tackle a new aspect of my writing with each new piece. I wanted to portray male characters in more complexity, and I think that in Midnight Robber I've begun that. I'll work it out more in short stories. I've wanted to portray sexuality more, particularly non good-girl sexuality. It was fun, too, to write the small bits of Midnight Robber that showed a society where coupledom was not the necessary default. I dealt with female body image stuff in an earlier short story ("A Habit of Waste"), and I'd like to get back to that, but likely my take on it will be different. I'm hesitant to spell things like this out because putting it into words that will get published will feel kind of like writing a contract; I might feel compelled to do what I said I wanted to, and I don't want to lock myself in like that. The quick answer is yes, I'm consciously trying to change, if not my style, then the ways in which I tackle things. And I may make stylistic changes too.
Annotated Bibliography for Nalo Hopkinson
Novels and Works as Editor
Brown Girl in the Ring (New York: Warner Aspect, 1998). To be published in
French as line Metisse Sur Le Ring by Editions Jrquote ai Lu, France, and in Polish by Zysk I S-Ka Press, Poland in 2001. Brown Girl tells the story of Ti-eanne, a young single mother forced to face the adversities of living in the abandoned core of the city in Toronto, ruled by a ruthless gang. In addition, she is plagued by her visions. In the course of the story, she learns to accept and utilize her spiritual heritage to resolve her conflicts.
Midnight Robber (New York: Warner Aspect, 2000). New York Times Notable Book of the Year. For commentary, see introduction to the interview.
Griffonne (forthcoming).
Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (editor) (Vermont, USA: Invisible Cities, 2000). A very broad-based collection of fabulist fiction from all over the Caribbean, this volume contains classics by E.K.
Brathwaite,
Wilson Harris, Olive Senior, as well as Hopkinson's own "The Glass Bottle Trick."
Short Fiction
Nalo Hopkinson frequently focuses on conventional notions of (particularly feminine) beauty, indicting their dictatorial advocacy of unnatural thinness, straight hair, pale
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An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
skin, and the like. She counters these images in various witty ways, especially in her short stories. Examples of this theme can be found in
"Slow Cold Chick" in the anthology Northern Frights 5, ed. Don Hutchison (Canada: Mosaic, 1999);
"Ganger: Ball Lightning" in the anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora, ed. Sheree R. Thomas (New York: Warner, 2000);
"A Habit of Waste," Fireweed (Toronto) 53 (1996); also published subsequently in the anthologies Northern Suns, eds. David Hartwell and Glenn Grant (USA: Tor, 1999) and Women of Other Worlds: Excursions Through Science Fiction and Feminism, eds. Helen Merrick and Tess Williams (U of Western Australia: UWA, 1999).
Additional Short Fiction
"Midnight Robber," Exile (Toronto) 18:4 (1995). Inspired by the Jamaican folk
hero/villain Three-Finger Jack, this story later grew into Hopkinson's second novel by the same title.
"Money Tree" in Tesseracts 6, eds. Robert Sawyer and Carolyn Clink (Canada:
Tesseract, 1997). Yet another take on Jamaican folk culture: a brother-sister narrative drawing its inspiration from the legend of the Golden Table.
"Riding the Red" in the anthology Black Swan, White Raven, eds Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (USA: Avon/Nova, 1997). A reinterpretation of the "Beast with a Heart of Gold," a common literary cliche^, science fiction not excluded; as in much of Hopkinson's fiction, a grandmother-mother-daughter relationship features prominently here.
"Precious" in the anthology Silver Birch, Blood Moon, eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (U.S.A.: Avon Eos, 1999). An exhiliratingly funny tale about the evils of fairy-tale riches.
"Greedy Choke Puppy" in the anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora, ed. Sheree R. Thomas (New York: Warner, 2000). As the proverb goes, "Craven choke puppy" ("A puppy that's greedy will choke").
Skin Folk (New York: Warner Aspect, December 2001). A collection of Hopkinson's short stories.
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Nalo Hopkinson has also been involved in staging some of her work (including "Greedy Choke Puppy" and "Slow Cold Chick") as audio-productions for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), and has recently ventured into e-publishing on the Warner Books iPublish site. Excerpts from much of her fiction published in print format can also be accessed on the author's website at http://www.sff.net/people/nalo.html.
NOTES
1. Samuel R. Delany, "On Triton and Other Matters: An Interview with Samuel R. Delany," Science Fiction Studies 17:3 (1990): 295-234; 302.
2. Daniel J. Crowley, "The Midnight Robbers," Caribbean Quarterly 3/4 (1956): 263-74.
3. In the novel, the eshus are tiny manifestations of artificial intelligence which can be conjured up telepathically by their users; however, they are not only servants but also monitor their hosts' behavior for the Granny Nanny surveillance system.
4. Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (Vermont, USA: Invisible Cities, 2000).
36


from Griffone, Novel-in-Progress
Nalo Hopkinson
from Griffonne1. Novel-in-Progress2
Beat
"It went in white, but it will come out a mulatto in a few months' time, yes?"
I was right; the oven of Georgine's belly was swelling up nice with the white man's loaf it was cooking to brown. I cackled at my own joke like the old woman I was becoming, stretched my neck a little to ease its soreness. A deep breath brought me salt-smelling air, blowing up from the cliffs at the foot of the plantation. Good to get away for a few minutes from stooping over sugar cane. Sixteen hours each day they had us working to bring the sugar in, and old Cuba the driveress still pushing the first gang to pluck weeds sometimes into the deep of the night.
Georgine just stared at me in fear; never mind it was she brought herself to me by her own will. Then she whispered, "No, Auntie. I'm quarteronne, my mother was mulatresse. The baby will be metis."
Eh. I ignored her, poked again at her belly, at she lolling on my husk-stuffed mattress; she get to plant her behind in a softer bed nowadays. I wonder if the heat don't stifle her when she put her head on Mister Pierre's chicken feather pillows.
I know Georgine's type. Makes her road by lying down. Lie down with dog, get up with fleas. Silly wench, with her caramel skin and her house nayga ways. Free coloured Philomise had been making eyes at her, well-off brown man with his own coffee plantation and plenty slaves to work it, but no, our master didn't want a coloured to have her, sold her instead to that yeasty-smelling carpenter imported to San Dominguehe from some backwards village in the ass end of France. And Georgine puffing herself up now she have a white man, never mind he don't have two coins to rub together.
True, she had cause maybe to be happy. Pierre was looking after her well. She might get a free child out of it too, one to maybe earn the money to buy her away from slavery finally. When she was old.
But now she needed tending, now that that flat-behind raw dough boy they call the plantation surgeon too shy to even lay his hands on her belly to feel the baby, who does she go to? Doesn't trust him. She's not an entire fool. Finds her high-coloured self to my hut instead.
And her carpenter had come with her too, got time off from mending the wain carts as they burst under the weight of the cane they were carrying to the factory. Waiting outside, he; screwing his hat into shreds between his big paws. Frightened I will poison his Georgine, his goods. All the backra round these parts frightened of poison nowadays. Black people's poison showing up in the food and bad ouanga in their beds. But Mister Pierre more frightened to see woman's business. So outside he stays, saying it's more decent.
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Eh. What decent could mean to we with black blood? Who ever feared for my decency?
Niger woman spoiled fine as any lady. She'd best watch herself. Slightest thing she do that misplease that backra man, she'd be back in somebody's great house, washing white women's stained sheets till her fingers crack and bleed from the soap.
I went to turn up the hem of Georgine's dress. She gasped, flinched. I sighed. "Can't examine you with all this cloth in the way."
She considered, set her mouth firmly. "Proceed, then."
Proceed. Stupid wench. Pampered pet parrot, talking with backra's tongue.
I touched her dress again. Soft cotton, soft as a mistress's own, and dyed a yellow pale like ripe guavas. It caught on the callouses of my hands. I niched her dress and petticoats up around her waist, exposed her smooth legs, her pouting belly, her bouboun lips covered in black crinkly hair. She was even paler where the sun didn't touch her. Bleached negress. Oh, but she was thin, meager like the chickens scratching in the yard outside. "Eh," I muttered, on purpose as though my patient wasn't there, "Would think the hair on the little bdbot would be pale like the skin."
Georgine gave a small sound, made to push the dress back down with her hands, stopped. Good.
The clean salt scent of Georgine's body came up in my nose, mixed with sweet rosewater. Me, I smelled of sweat. Her thigh under my fingers was velvet smooth like my baby's, long lost. My body was dry wood after years of work; the brand that had got infected and nearly killed me tunnelled a ropy knot on my thigh. Her yellow dress reflected the sun back in its own eye. My one frock was a colourless calico cut from a flour sack, washed a thousand times, that Tipingee had darned for me over and over again, for my hands were impatient with needles unless it was to sew up a wound. Georgine's skin was steamed milk with a splash of high mountain coffee. Me, the colour of dirt in the canefields.
I poked and prodded at Georgine's belly while she tried not to squirm. I took my time, in no hurry to get back to the fields. My back was thanking me for having a rest. "When you get pregnant?"
"I don't know, Auntie," she said in a small voice. Know-nothing girl child.
"When your courses stop?" I asked, trying another way to get the answer from
her.
"Stop? They only start..." she was frowning, looking up into the ceiling while she did her figuring, "... ten months ago. My first blood. Then I bleed three times, three months, then pretty soon I start puking a lot, then I realise the bleeding stop. I thought it was going away and I was glad, for I didn't like the pain and the blood, and I feel like it was only fatiguing me. When the bleeding come, I don't have the strength to lift the washing down to the river. Lisette who watches over all the washer-women beat me one day, tell me I too lazy. So I was glad when the bleeding stop. Is Marie Claire tell me I pregnant." Her face get red and she smile, glancing down. "For Pierre."
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from Griffone, Novel-in-Progress
Seven months, maybe more. The child under my hands too small for a seven month baby. "How you feeling?"
"I tired all the time, T'antie. Even more than when I used to get my courses."
I went and looked under her eyelids. Her colour was poor. Her blood was thin. "You and Pierre eating good?"
"Yes, T'antie! I keeping a good garden Sundays when I have the day off. I growing cassava and pumpkin, plenty pumpkin. Pierre say I don't have to take none of it to market, for Master paying he a wage we could both live on. Pierre say . ."
"Pierre say, Marie Claire say. I asking about you, not about them."
"Yes, T'antie. What I should do then?"
Back in my home, back in the kingdom of Dahomey, every Arara girlchild and woman would know what to do if a woman wasn't strong enough to carry her baby. Eat foods with blood, eat red food. "You have beets in your garden?"
"No, T'antie. I should grow some?"
"Yes. I wish if you could get liver too."
"I get meat sometimes."
Eh. Maybe she thinks her Pierre is a fine hunter as well as all his other talents? "How you mean, meat?"
"Sometimes Pierre get meat leftover after the great house finish eating dinner."
"Don't eat that meat!" She's startled to hear me speak so strong. "No child, I don't mean nothing by it. Just that white people don't know about food. Plenty times their meat spoil and they still eating it."
"Oh. It tastes nice, though. Boeufaujus with red wine sauce."
Little bit of girl was making airs that she get to eat great house food. "You can't stay weak and tired like this and have a baby."
"Oh," she said fearfully. "I going to die?"
Pride made me speak to her as I did to other women. "You ever see a slave like me live more than ten years once he set foot on this island?"
Georgine shook her head no. Too right. Sickness and torture killed most of us on the journey across the bitter water, then the backra worked the rest of us to death when we got here. Plenty more coming on the ships to replace us.
"Well, I been here twelve years. Was apprentice to my midwife mother before I came. That's why they make me doctress. Dozens of babies on this island I take live from their mothers' wombs and put them in their mothers' arms."
She smiled. So I didn't tell how many of those mothers had died of fever soon afterwards. Didn't tell how many of the babies had got the lockjaw, never breathed again. Didn't talk of my little dead one, so many years ago. Returned beneath the water to the spirits before his ninth night, so he had never really existed. No name for him. Except in my head. He was so beautiful, I called him Ehioze, "none can envy you." Should have been Amadi, "might die at birth." Back in my home, we cared for women when they were breeding, gave them the best foods. They rested for days afterwards with their babies, getting to know them. Here I must help starving women squatting in sugar cane whose children were fighting their way free of their wombs.
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After, I strap their child to their backs and, if they're lucky, they get a day's rest in the slave hospital before they have to get their black behinds back to work.
A footfall came outside the window. A small black face looked in on us, grinning. A shout from outside: Georgine's owner man. Georgine screamed, "Who is it?" and shoved her clothing down over her thighs.
"Just one of the little boys," I told her, loud so the carpenter would hear. Mami, let he not beat the child. "Get dressed."
I stepped outside. It was Ti-Bois, all of his skinny six year-old soul case quivering with excitement. "Sorry, Mister Pierre," I mumbled at the carpenter. He grunted, nodded. Ti-Bois get off light this time.
I hissed at Ti-Bois, "Why you push your face in my window, huh? Little door-peep. You make the backra vex, you and me both could get beat. No wonder they call you Ti Malice."
His face twitched a frightened, apologetic smile. "Sorry, T'antie, sorry Auntie Mer. Is the book-keeper send me. You must come quick; Hopping John step on a centipede in the sugar cane and it bite him. He in the mill house, no time to take him to the slave hospital. Quick, Auntie; come!" He turned on his heel, running back for the cane fields. I shouted for him to wait for me, then said to the carpenter: "Mister Pierre, Georgine coming out now."
He was frowning. He really looked fretful for his Georgine. "How is her health?"
She was living; Hopping John might be dying. "She will be fine, Mister Pierre. I already tell her what she need to do."
His face cleared a little. "Good. You're to be with her when her time comes, at our house."
"How. ..?"
"Plantation doctor says. Your master gave permission." "Yes, Mister Pierre. I will send her out to you now." I dashed back into my room. "Someone sick," I told Georgine. "I have to go and help." "But,"
"You must grow beets and eat them, make yourself strong for the birth. And get ginger root and make a poultice, put it down there every night, on the opening to your bouboun." She got a scandalized look. I didn't have time for that. "Not strong enough to burn, mind. It will make the skin supple so the baby will pass through without tearing it. And tell your carpenter not to touch you until after you wean."
She gasped. "So long?"
"So long. Or his seed will sour your milk."
Georgine looked down at her big belly like she was just now thinking of all that it signified.
"Your baby coming in two months, not more. When your birth time come, I could be there with you, Master say. I have to go now." I ran through the door, leaving her questions on her lips. Maybe they would let Tipingee come with me to Georgine's birth.
40


from Griffone, Novel-in-Progress
Mami Wata, pray you a quick death for Hopping John. Pray you no more of this life for him. Even though no gods answer black people's prayers here in this hell.
Halfway to the mill house, I had to pass under the big kenep tree. I just had time to hear a rustling in the leaves, when a body jumped down out of it in front of me. It landed on its two feet, overbalanced, but only had one hand to put to the ground to steady itself. Makandal.
"Salaam aleikum, T'antie," he greeted me.
I didn't give him back his blessing. "Get out my way," I panted. "Someone
sick."
He straightened, cradling the long-healed stump of his right arm in his unclean left hand. Nasty man. Can't eat with the rest of we Mandingue no more, for he don't have a godly right hand to dip from the pot with.
Makandal stood tall. Grinned at me. "Story run from Hopping John mouth the way shit run from duck behind," he said around a kenep fruit in his mouth. "Always talking my business. Nayga-run-to-backra sometimes will step on nasty things, he so hurry. Get piqueV' He jabbed with a fingertip, a thorn biting into flesh. He put a fake sadness on his face. "Is a bad way to sicken."
"Is you sick Hopping John!" Not a centipede but a piquette in the fields, a piece of sharpened bamboo the brute jammed into the ground, smeared with his poison on the tip.
His smile brightened like the day. "I tell the piquette to catch whoever was talking my business. Look like I aim it true." He spat out the pale ball of the kenep seed. "Where Marie Claire?" he asked. "In the kitchen, you think? I have a new herb for her to flavour your master food with."
I skinned up my face to think of him sticking that left hand he use to wipe his ass with into the cook pot. I made to shove past him. "Get out my way and gone!" Runaway. Thief. Hiding in the bush and making off with the yams the Guinin must grow to feed themselves and their children. Calling himself "maroon."
"Gone, T'antie Mer."
And just like that, he disappeared. Turned to air? No. There he was, a manmzel now, doing its dragonfly dance level with my nose. Ignorant Makandal trick. The manmzel landed on my hand, its wings flicking like when you whip your back skirt hem to contempt somebody. It was missing half a front leg.
"Get way, or I feed you salt!" I told him. Is must be so he got his power. Every man jack of we as we get off the slave ships, the white god's priests use sea water to make the magic cross on our foreheads and bind us to this land. Maybe not Makandal. Never chained with white man's obeah, never fed the salt of the bitter soil of this new world to tie his earthly body down to it, never ate the salt fish and the filthy haram, the salt pork that was the only meat the Guinin got. A miracle. But he's still too much of this world to be able to fly back home. No, he's going to stay here and make mischief instead.
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I went to clap the nasty fly dead like the vermin it was, but it scooted away, wings buzzing that tune: "Wine is white blood, San Domingo; we going drink white blood, San Domingo..."
A black wave of retribution was set to crash over Saint Domingue, and its crest was Francois Makandal.
I ran to tend Hopping John.
NOTES
1. A light-skinned black woman.
2. This manuscript is still very much in draft form, and I would welcome correction on any historical accuracies. Please e-mail me at nalo(S).web.ca.
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Creative Writing by Noreen Duncan
Noreen Duncan
Aunt Jim
She wore brown canvas and rubber-soled half boots; you know the ones the older children called gym boots. That's how she got her name: Aunt Jim. She lived with Aunt Lil in Aunt Lil's house, and the children loved Aunt Lil and her house, and they loved spending the August holidays with Aunt Lil. They loved waking up early to Aunt Lil's humming and singing and her tinkly little laugh and the smell of breakfast, salt fish and fried bakes and fresh chocolaty cocoa tea, with cinnamon and frothy milk. They spent the mornings catching lizards and batty mamselles and the nasty little ravine fish. While Aunt Lil did the ladies' hair and cooked lunch, Aunt Jim cleaned the yard and picked green mangoes and ceries and guavas for them, and then she sat in the gallery and watched; she didn't watch Aunt Lil or the ladies or the children or anybody really, she just watched. She didn't say anything. After lunch, breadfruit and zaboca and shrimps or fish, Aunt Lil and Aunt Jim went into the bedroom and closed the door.
The children, tired and full of country food, would fall asleep, dreaming about the sea and the river, or Tarzan and Jane. In the afternoons, Aunt Jim walked behind the children, with a stick, as they went, single file, down the road and to the beach, and she sat on the beach and watched. She never said anything, but the children enforced her rules. If one pushed another's head underwater and held him, he would come up red-eyed and spitting salt: "Don't do that, boy. You want Aunt Jim to get vexed or what?" Then, as it grew dark, Aunt Lil and Aunt Jim sat in the gallery, and the children would doze off to the sounds of their voices, swirling and darting and swooping around as the moths and candle flies, chasing and wooing around the lamp flame.
Aunt Lil's tinkly little laugh and her sweet smell filled the children's days and their night sleep. She was pretty; she smiled and sang and wore an apron with flowers, and a hibiscus over her ear in her hair, which curled a little around her neck. She talked and laughed with everybodythe ladies whose hair she did in the drawing room, and the fish sellers, and the hops bread man. On Sundays, she took the children and many of the neighbour children to church. Aunt Jim did not go to church. She sat in the gallery and waited until they came back, and after Aunt Lil had taken off her hat and her high heels and her pretty dress, she and Aunt Jim ate breakfast then, and drank strong country coffee together. In the afternoon, they went to a matinee, Aunt Lil and Aunt Jim.
Aunt Jim's face and features were perfect, perfectly oval eyes, and neat little nose and mouth, but she did something with the muscles of her face, something that didn't make her look pretty at all, at all. Her forearms were large and well-developed and one could imagine, if she and Aunt Lil went to a carnival fete, Aunt Jim would put her arm around Aunt Lil's small waist and pull her to her, hard, and dance close, one
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arm around Aunt Lil and the other hanging down. But that never happened. It could never happen.
The husband of Aunt Jim's sister died suddenly, and Aunt Jim went to stay with her. She never came back. Nobody asked where she was or when she was coming back. Nobody said anything about her. And the children grew big and couldn't spend all of their August holidays at Aunt Lil's, but they still loved her and she them; they always came to spend a week or a fortnight or so, bringing their friends from their high schools. Aunt Lil baked and iced cakes and made jams and sweets then; she didn't do hair anymore. The children woke late to the smell of her breakfasts, the plantains fried, the new sweet bread, the coconut bake and the sounds of her singing and humming as she boiled fudge and made sugar cakes, and heated the country coffee. All day people came by to pick up black cakes and bottles of guava jam, and Aunt Lil's tinkly little laugh and her sweet smell wafted through the house.
The children and their friends went down to the beach by themselves when they felt like it. But every now and then, when one would shove another's head underwater, and he would come up red-eyed and salt spitting, he would say, "Don't do that, boy. You want Aunt Jim to get vexed or what?" Then one of the friends would ask, "Who is Aunt Jim?" And one of the children would say, "Cheups. Don't bother with him. He always bringing up old jokes."
Violet
So when Violet smartly put out her tan leather gloved right hand and indicated her right hand turning into Newbold Street and into the driveway of number 22 to park her Morris Oxford behind her brother-in-law Basil's Austin Princess, the first to enter Trinidad after the war, the passersby on the pavement stopped respectfully, aware that they were witnessing, if not exactly a regal turn of events, at least a high class right hand turning. For there was no doubt that Violet was high class. She never had to say it, people could smell it, the drop of 4711 on her hankie the more obvious indication, of course.
As she applied the hand brake, she composed her mouth, both to hold in the inevitable cheups as she contemplated another wasted evening at home with the Duchess and the Headmaster, her parents, and the unruly nephews, as well as to clearly enunciate the call for the yard boy: "Charles!" He didn't come. He never came when she first called, and she would have to call again, bawl out his name, so improper. The Duchess would accuse her of being improper, even though it was her fault that Charlie wouldn't come on the first call. He was spoiled and a liar. He had told the nephews that he was their cousin, and Superior, the Duchess' macomere from St. Vincent, who was really only a servant and a bad cook, but who took over the place like she was some kind of housekeeper, had corroborated the lie. Charlie's mother was a servant, Superior's helper. Fastness! That was why she was so sorry she had
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ever come back to Trinidad, people were always minding your business and lying and never knew their place. Imagine they said that she had tried to marry Basil before he had married her sister, Hyacinth, the mother of the nephews. Basil put on airs and people thought he had studied in England, but he hadn't even reached seventh standard, and to besides, he was only a civil service clerk, driving the Princess out on Saturdays and Sundays and walking to his office during the week with an umbrella, just like if he was some blasted Englishman. If he wasn't married to her sister, she wouldn't even talk to him, and anyhow, he was the one who put love notes under her bedroom door and tried to kiss her the night the Duchess and Headmaster made Hyacinth and him tell people that they were engaged, and then they posted the banns in Trinity Church that next Sunday and almost didn't wait a month for the wedding.
She cheupsed then: "Charles!" He came round the side of the house slowly from the kitchen, and she had to tell him again, every day, to open the car door for her. Like he forgot. Every day. "Open the door, Charles. Here, take my briefcase and those packages in the back seat, and be careful this time how you handle them. You almost broke the bottles yesterday. And when you finish putting them inside, wipe down the car and lock it up." She saw the cut-eye, but she was already too tired to box him, the drive up from Arima was exhausting, and she needed a cup of tea and a bath, to wash the smells of the drug store and those annoying little people buying ointment and carbolic soap all day, out of her skin.
She hated Trinidad and Trinidadians. If it wasn't for her parents running out of money because her lazy rum-drinking brother had failed his medical exams for the third time and the university had expelled him, and he had to go to the States to try to get his medical training there, as the Headmaster was determined that all of his sons would be doctors, especially after his oldest and brightest son, as soon as he qualified had died so unexpectedly of fever in London, she would never have come back to this small-minded place. She could have had her qualifications as a dentist and been married to a university educated man, but the Headmaster had made her come home from her studies at McGill University, just as she had got Pierre to say that he realized that they belonged together, and she even had this little pearl ring to prove it. And even though she had come back to her parents' house, she had prepared her trousseau, had had her cotton sheets and silk bedspread and linen table cloths and embroidered hand towels and crochet doilies and kitchen towels made. And every month when she got her salary, she had paid something on the silver set at Stetchers. Everything was ready, put away in the little storeroom behind the servants' quarters. Pierre had promised to write, but he had never written; all she had were the little ring and the photos of them in the park in Montreal and of the week that they had run away to New York, and of the headstone of his grave, those she kept under her pillow. She had strictly forbidden anyone in the house, especially Superior, to make her bed or to touch any of her things, but they did anyway, and the Duchess encouraged them.
There he was making noise and causing ruction as usual, Piaf, the little white poodle that she was keeping for her friend Louise who had had to leave Trinidad in a
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MaComere
hurry, when The Trinidad Guardian ran her picture on the front page smiling demurely, the morning after she had called the friend of a friend at the newspaper and announced that she had married the Premier, although he was a Roman Catholic and had not been able to get the Pope to annul his marriage to his first wife. Violet missed Louise who wasn't as small-minded as the others, particularly the girls who had been to school with her. They were all unhappily married and producing a string band of children, and they had never even been anywhere, but they were always making style on her, pretending that their silly little husbands who were always trying to make arrangements to meet her somewhere, adored them. She and Louise went to the cinema every Saturday afternoon and then to the Dairies for ice-cream and down the islands most weekends, until the Premier had taken over her life, and Louise had to stay at home and wait for him to telephone or come late at night after her servant had gone to sleep, and it looked like the neighbours on the street had turned off their lights and gone to sleep
Violet braced herself for the long evening with the Duchess, Hyacinth and Superior, none of whom cared about her day, or her long drive, or the small people who bothered her all day, but they would expect her to listen to them regale the smallness of their day at home, the serial stories on Redifussion and the gossip of the street sellers and the beggars who came to the house with the usual daily sameness and dullness and regularity. Basil would be resting from the exertions of his office work, and the Headmaster, never forgetting who he was and lest anyone else should, was giving free private lessons to the nephews and some of the neighbourhood children whose parents were grateful and sent him navel oranges from their trees or benne balls from their relatives in Tobago, by way of payment for those lessons.
But today there was excitement going on. The nephews and the other children were loud in the dining room, clearly the Headmaster was not in charge, not wielding his freshly picked cherry whip. Hyacinth and Superior were silent, unusual for those two mauvais langues, and the Duchess, herself, was not her usual self, holding court in the front gallery, but sitting on a kitchen bench, drinking a cup of tea in the midst of all the confusion, she also quiet. Only Piaf s behaviour was as normal, and he wasn't normally part of the household. The Headmaster and Basil had their heads together, whispering nervously about something so serious that they neither hushed the loud nephews nor seemed to notice Violet's return home. But as the Headmaster rallied, resuming his usual scholarly demeanour, and lifted the receiver of the telephone, Basil, forgetting his Oxonion tones, bawled out his wife's name, "Hyacind!"
She, Hyacinth, was so startled by this change in her husband that she too forgot herself and ran to the toilet instead of answering the summons, causing Superior to forget herself and run to see what he wanted, or probably to try to find out what he and the Headmaster had been conspiring. That's when everybody else seemed to notice Violet, and the Duchess finally explained the reason for the disorderly household: a thief had stolen the gold bangles right off of the wrists of one of the
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Creative Writing by Noreen Duncan
children, right there in the driveway, just as she was on her way into the house for her private lessons, in broad daylight. The Headmaster had gotten through to the Officer-in-Charge at the Besson Street Police Headquarters and was offering by way of preamble and evidence of his superior citizenry, his credentials: Headmaster, retired, Deacon of Trinity Cathedral, extant, and Father of Dr. So and So, late of London, deceased. He also made some preliminary remarks about the results of the miseducation or undereducation of certain members of the Trinidad population who did not understand their place in the society, all this before he was able to tell, with much editorialising, what had happened in his driveway. The Duchess had retired to her bedroom, later to emerge to be interviewed by the policeman, dispatched from Headquarters, to take a statement from the child who was alone in the driveway during the robbery, but who was not allowed to tell the constable anything as the Headmaster would recount the incident himself, being, in his mind, the only person qualified to speak properly to the authorities.
Only after the policeman had left, and Superior had boiled many kettles of water for tea for all, and Charlie had washed and locked up the car, and the Duchess and the Headmaster had settled themselves on the gallery chairs, and Basil had gone to lie down, tired as usual, and the nephews and the other children had been sent to play in Victoria Park, only then did Hyacinth remember that there had been a letter for Violet, with American stamps, which was none of her business. Violet took her bath, accepted tea and biscuits from Superior, sat in the gallery with her parents to hear the story told again and again, embellished and embroidered and theorised about, until the Headmaster had become part of the saga, recounting the words that he himself said to the thief, and the Duchess remembering that when she awoke that morning, she had said to Superior, ask her if that wasn't true, that she had dreamt something that told her something would go wrong that self same day.
And then it seemed a lifetime later, the nephews had finally stopped jumping on the beds, and their grandfather had had his Epsom salts, and their parents had gone for a drive so that Basil could get some fresh air so that he could get a restful night's sleep so that he could do a good day's work the next day, and the household was quiet. Violet went to her room with a glass of sherry and the letter. She put on her nightie and put Ponds on her face and three curlers in her hair and plucked her eyebrows and turned on her bedside light and gently peeled the flap of the letter. Just as she had hoped and knew, Louise was in New York. It wasn't a long letter, just that she had arrived safely in New York, she did not explain, but someone who she wouldn't or couldn't name had sent her money for her two week stay in the Park Plaza Hotel, and she was getting a regular allowance, monthly, from Trinidad, so that she had an apartment in Brooklyn, but she was lonely. She missed Piaf, but most of all she missed her friend, not the person who was evidently supporting her in New York, but Violet, the only person in the world who understood her, really. Please come. That was all. Before she fell asleep, Violet's pillow case was wet with perspiration or tears.
The next morning, the Duchess arose earlier than her usual, dressed carefully
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MaComere
in her hat, put eau de toilette on her hankie and sent one of the nephews to call the mother of the child who had been robbed. While she waited, she had her morning tea and made the daily arrangements with Superior. Basil had read his newspaper, taken his umbrella and strolled off to work. Violet's car was gone. She must have left very early as noone had seen her, even Charlie and the Headmaster who were usually the first up and about, one to feed the chickens and sweep the drains, the other to supervise the work. Hyacinth was not an early riser. The Duchess had spoken authoritatively to the child's mother who was instructed to dress the girl in her Sunday School dress, not in her school uniform, polished shoes, white socks, and ribbons in her hair, please, and called for a taxi to take them to Police Headquarters where she would give another report to the police and inspect some police photographs so that she and perhaps the girl could identify the criminal. When they finished assisting the police with their investigations, it was lunch time and the Duchess would have her noontime meal and lie down, but before that she told the mother of the child she would give her money to replace the gold bracelets, but, she lectured, none of her children had been allowed to wear gold jewelry, even to church, and look how well they had turned out.
Charlie was the first to raise the alarm. Hyacinth and her mother had been looking out in the gallery when Basil came up the street from his office with his furled brolly, and the Headmaster was washing his hands after having finished his afternoon lessons. He had been particularly instructive with the cherry whip, perhaps to make up for the lapse the afternoon before. The nephews were free to play in the park before bedtime, and Piaf was barking his little head off, annoying Superior, who had told him to marche more than once. But Charlie, who had no watch, and probably couldn't read the clock, knew that Violet was late, and was so confident that he went boldly into the gallery and informed the Duchess that her younger daughter was late. They didn't panic right away. In fact, it wasn't until it grew dark that the Headmaster conferred with his son-in-law before he rang up the Arima police station, then the San Juan police station, and then the Morvant police station, ordering the respective sargeants-in-charge to look out for Violet's Morris along the Eastern Main Road. Then finally, he had Basil take out the Princess, was Basil to get no rest in that household? For a few minutes, they worried about who would go in the car to look for Violet, but the Headmaster remembered himself and decided that Charlie should go in case the Morris had fallen into a ditch, and it would take two men to hoist it out and anyway, he, the Headmaster, would be the most qualified to manage the telephone, and who would protect the ladies and the children?
But even though Basil drove all the way to Arima and went into the houses near the drugstore and in his beautiful best English, Charlie having to translate for him, enquired about his sister-in-law, nobody had seen her. As a matter of fact, she had not come into the drug store at all at all that day, and when was she coming back, so and so had a boil and a child had had a worm and Senna or sulphur ointment were needed? When he finally drove into the driveway at number 22, it was very late, but
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Creative Writing by Noreen Duncan
all the lights were blazing, only the children had gone to bed, the rest of the household were wide awake, and very worried, Hyacinth seemed to have been crying. The Headmaster had telephoned the police stations a dozen times and demanded that they produce his daughter, and another young constable had been sent to the house, asking a lot of blasted-stupid questions so that the Headmaster had to have a few hard words with him, and then he had had to ring up the station again and register another complaint and threaten to have them all dismissed, they really had no idea who he was. Basil was worried too, but it looked as if nobody was planning to go to bed that night and he would be expected to stay up with them! Charlie and Piaf were the calmest and quietest. Three or four times, Superior had to be reminded to put the kettle on, Hyacinth wept feebly and continuously, seeing an opportunity to rest her head on Basil's somewhat reluctant shoulder, and the Duchess asked her husband every five minutes to ring up the police again.
It wasn't until dawn that Superior and the Duchess thought to check her bedroom, and they discovered then what they should have hours before, but Charlie knew, Violet's clothes were gone and her bed had not been made. The women spent the day crying. The Headmaster put on his bespoke suit and his deceased son's university tie and made Basil drive him to see the Bishop of Trinity Cathedral and then to the chambers of his solicitor, neither of whom had any idea what he could do, but they listened to him and promised to take steps, although they didn't say where or to what end. By the time he and Basil eventually drove into the driveway again, it was late, getting dark almost. The Duchess rang up two or three of Violet's school friends and asked how they were and their little darlings and their better halves, and gave her best regards to their dear mamas, but naturally she couldn't come out and ask if anybody knew where Violet was. People were just too fast and talkative.
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MaComere
Nydia Ecury
The Race at Eventide
There was no material prize attached to the race, only the joy of being held close to him before all the other ones. This race took place every evening around six when my father came home from work. Seven of usthe younger onestook part.
Cars had already arrived on the small island and we had a Willy's Overland. Yet Papa walked home from his place of business in the main street.
There was a big open piece of land in front of our house and at the corner stood my Grandmother's grocery store. As my father rounded that corner, he would announce his home-coming by shaking his bunch of keys, while he sang to us children, who were playing in front of the house.
Ken ku ta mi dushi, Whoever is my darling, kore bin brasami! come running and hug me!
One dash was made for it!
My older siblings always won, and I always went longing for that delicious very first one of the hugs my father gave after his day's work was done. Caring for us the way he did, it must have been a great joy to him to be thus attacked with love by this array of boys and girls, who eagerly awaited his arrival every evening.
One evening, disappointed at not getting that very first hug for days at an
end, I got a brilliant idea. Visiting with his mother across the patio, my
father sat on a straight Tonette chair that stood against the wall. The bigger brothers
were not around. Only the smaller siblings were present, so this was my chance to win.
I suggested a repeat performance of the race.
My father looked surprised, but was all for it anyway.
When he sang the song, we flew at him and victory was mine as this time I actually got that first hug. But what a price there was to pay. The impact of those kids flying at him at once was so hard, that my father hit his head against the wall with an enormous bang. Victory was bittersweet as my father, half smiling, half frowning, rubbed the back of his head.
Since then I have never tried again for that very first hug in real life. Yet, even now, when I am only three years younger than my father was when he stopped having birthdays at 78.
Even now, whenever I should want or need to, all I have to do is close my eyes to run
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Creative Writing by Nydia Ecury
that very race, all by myself.
The keys! The song! Run, kiddo, run!
Papa picks me up and carries me home. When we reach the front door I bend my head, lest my crown should topple. A princess I have become!
And my father's shoulder is my throne, today, tomorrow and all the days left to come.
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MaComere
Marsha Leconte
Justification of a Battered
My impartial vagina threatened his manhood. He screamed that it bled too much. Eyes falsely placid, hands rankling the criminal sheets, out of sweat, I shrank, turning into a dark alley.
There seemed to be nowhere to wash my face and clear my disillusioned eyes. My reality faded and I still could not get rid of him. A splash of red ink rampaging a piece of paper. A blank piece of paper.
My head could no longer predict my behavior or order my heart at what rhythm to drum. My heart could not stop breathing through him. My river of anger silently poured out of flames, raging the ashes of his wicked desires.
I might spend the rest of my life in between four walls, but at least they won't be invisible ones. Touching them might even bring serenity, reminding me that I transformed my faith and made his destiny. I will smoke a cigarette in my cell, transforming my smoke into clouds in a gray sky and I will smile. The thought of him no longer imposing nor insistent.
Through a glass of red wine I envisioned his blood. In the lyric of jazz, I claimed his death. These were the things he loved the most. These were the things he seduced me with. They kept me blind. They betrayed him. Jazz, wine at the light of scattered candles. I thought it to be romantic until he forced my head down his pants. Pushing it deeper and deeper. My mouth too full, I had mistaken his pleasure for mine. That first time never left me.
His eyes seemed huge when I woke him up in the middle of the night. My jazz was live and my wine the way I like it, very sweet. I blew his head, and his huge eyes rolled over. His mouth opened, and I saw the hole in his temple, his brain exposed. For a moment, I wanted to shake him as if I had only put him back to sleep. Dropping to the floor, sarcasm on my face, I do not remember what I felt then.
How could I not swallow the ocean that drowned me waves after waves. Learning to surf wasn't enough. How did I slip, without noticing it, into that mold that did not fit? Red shiny shoes that I squeezed in. Shoes that hurt right after the first steps. Shoes that I thought would stretch but never did. Aware that I reflected his shortcomings, he broke me, crying after, allowing himself another back street to justification.
Lovers. We were lovers, he always insisted. His goal was to unveil the prude in me. For that, he had to teach me obedience. He rinsed me in his bloody bath of love where his sick rules changed at his leisure. I could not find his path nor mine. He bragged about knowing me. He bragged about knowing my words, my reactions, my temperament. He did not know me. It was only aware of my body, with it only he conversed. I made great effort to touch him back. A spasm. Misery seemed to naturally wrap my being when I shut my eyes to avoid his feverish looks. My distance
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Creative Writing by Marsha Leconte
excited him. He would map my legs apart, screaming his eagerness. My hands on his hairy stomach, faking a caress; all I thought about was to pull his heart out. Ripping it out of its arteries. My smile. My knife. Blood dripping on my feet. My right hand, red, wet, full, holding the organ still beating at its normal pace. I only dreamed about ripping back what he had stolen from me, pieces of a blue sky.
Rain poured me down. My clothes seemed always wet under a gray sky assailing false sentiments. I always came back. I came back for more. In so many eyes I saw the conviction that I could not do without the bruises. Those eyes blinking pity, reminded constantly of whom I had became, of whom I was to stay. Every slap, every rape, increased the envy to burst. But still, the idea that he had stained me, that I could only find my way through abnormal love submerged me.
I prayed to keep my reality and reject his. I prayed to leave and never come back. I prayed that I really hated the beatings, that I did not deserve them. I prayed to know that his tears and drinking afterwards were not signs of regrets. Every day I repeated the litany of the hate of him, forcing myself to kill, to kill my fears and my sense of resignation.
My eyes. My brown eyes darkened by his angry fist. My lips split by his slaps. Blue. Red. Sore. I could not look for too long in mirrors. My swollen eyelid bowed to the floor, looking for my static feet. My head turned furtively searching for doors. My hands avoided to touch too hard, managing not to increase the pain, wondering how long his stains would remain.
Neighbors won't hear my screams anymore. I will no longer shrink into dark alleys, desperately begging to escape his dirty hands, his angry eyes, his impatience. I washed my illusions. I close my clear eyes anticipating peace, even between four walls. The thought of him dragging me by the hair, a knife in his left hand ready to taste my blood is buried in the labyrinths of unfounded pain. I sip my wine, I hear my jazz. I smile, reinventing clouds through smoke in a gray sky.
53


MaComere
Teonilda Madera
Areitos
Speak!
Say your word, And if you are a poet It will be poetry.
Leonida Lamborghini
Come to me all kinds of men,
and rip from me the silent
cry of bells that reside in towns of hospitality.
Take from me this agglutination of children
that play with mud.
Liberate the areitos, the drums,
the lute, the Cante Jondo,
the racket of men without borders.
Run, hurry, rip from me the slept pain of Hiroshima, the cadavers of Bosnia, and the ancestral hate of racism!
Come, regain the love that cracks between my veins; save the good part of humanity that lives within me because the millennium comes quietly and it could be filled with trepidation!
Grab the children from Violence; rescue the swains that live captive In the Internet webs
and in the hypnosis of computerized games
that condemn them to a pungent
silence which has mutilated words
like: mom, dad, grandparents, love, God (...)
Hey, you, judges, educators, painters, poets, (...) and musicians, justify the muteness and this collective violence
54


Poetry and Creative Writing by Teonilda Madera before the arrival of the millennium!
Brindis
Brindo porque me libera del amor
y 61 se libera conmigo como
peces resbaladizos;
porque tu mezquindad se llev6
el torbellino de esta piel
que enloquecia contigo;
brindo porque mis labios,
se nan humedecido
y en el pecho hay un retofio
de olivo, y si manana te dicen
que amo a otro, !no te sorprendas querido!
porque en mi duerme el amor
que una vez me brotaba
contigo, y sus raices gestaran
ante un nuevo estimulo
y subiran como espigas,
y de mi cuerpo emanara tu semen
como un rio que arroja peces dormidos,
y no olvides, que tambieii brindar6
por ti porque al fin te has ido.
UnHijo
(Para Kelvin, mi hijo)
Un hijo es un petalo que florece en la matriz;
un hijo es un dolor necesario
que se acuna indefenso en el velo del vientre
y su presencia es una incognita
que hay que ayudar a descifrar;
un hijo es un manojo de llanto,
un desvelo, un asombro, un sobresalto.
Un hijo es el rocio que oxigena las entranas;
un hijo es Dios encarnado;
es un rio de sangre que no alcanzo a deslizarse;


MaComere un hijo es la rama que no se puede cortar.
A Child
A child is a petal that flourishes in the matrix;
a child is a necessary pain that is rocked
defenseless in the vein of the womb
and its presence is an enigma
waiting to be deciphered;
a child is a bundle of tears,
an insomnia, an astonishment, a fright!
A child is the dew that oxygenates the belly;
a child is God incarnated;
is a river of blood that didn't slide;
a child is an uncutable branch.
Eco Envejecido
(,Quq somos?, (pregunt6 la conciencia).
Un enjambre de palabras hilvanando el cerebro;
un manojo de hilachas
vistiendo cuerpos;
un monton de huecos lucifugos, (...)
(susuno un eco envejecido).
Somos algo menos incierto: un librito de sapiencia sin leer, eso somos.
The Echo of Age
What are we? asked our conscience.
A swarm of words
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Poetry and Creative Writing by Teonilda Madera
stitching together the brain, a handful of loose ends draping our bodies,
mass, space, emptied and averse to light, (...) whispered the echo of age.
We're something less uncertain: A little book of knowledge left unread. That's what we are.
Remembrances
are coming; they hit each other;
crumple the memory, and become butterflies.
First Remembrance:
"Don't forget me Rodolphe"says Madame Bovary gently, and the knavish man softly swears to her eternal love.
Second Remembrance:
Penelope appears knitting loves
in the bench and rendered at her feet
lie the last leaves of autumn
that B6cquer heard in the afternoon nostalgia.
Third Remembrance:
Between smiles and kisses love is turning off,
and a gasp, hardly a murmur, takes my innocence away.
Tragedy
"Reality should not be more than a springboard" Gustave Flaubert
A man, a woman and a child with a beach to their backs; his and her heads, hang;


MaComere
their arms are hugging their own bodies while their eyes build a refuge in the sand;
the naked feet, white like the foam of the lifeless sea they have to their backs;
the hands of the man, tied to the shipwreck of life.
Their bodies shiver and the child with his little hands opened
resembles the free waves of the sea and soak his parents with trust.
A man, a woman, and a child painted by Picasso
to warn us of the unexpected tragedy that waits for us on any road.
58


Poetry by Angelita Reyes
Angelita Reyes
Letter Written Near the North Sea
Somehow a man and a woman could walk naked in the Siberian snows for each other. ..
I saw you that night in the cafe"
And watched you roll your sweater sleeves up
to the elbow
and wondered:
Why does she wear such clothes in this hot month?
But they bothered you, men and women. Didn't they?
And so, you wore long sleeves ... with long trousers.
And the way you walk holding your head So rightly on your shoulders, but mein gott, this cannot be good English? Do angels walk rightly so?
As I write here near the sea, I could cherish you, already.
As a boy in 1912,1 heard
The sea tell me ancient stories;
I watched the sea bring the Germans
I saw the sea take them away;
I smelled our homes burn
Our gardens smoldered.
Only street names remain with
childhood coastlines and
the sea still whips
cold winds back and forth
across things that were
and the years with you
that I want...
Rightly so.
Let me keep the sea I cherish the coastlines


MaComere
I cherish you already.
Postcard to Trinidad
For the Trinidad I'll never see
I hear only the rustling of royal palms
near the bay,
sand sifting through
your toes ... along the beach the beach walks.
For the Trinidad I'll never see
I long for those pampering breezes to come
for your fingertips to outline my lips, my nose, my eyelashes; for your eyes to beckon me Closer to the Trinidad I'll never see.
For the Trinidad I'll never see I am hundreds of miles away Listening to the island conjuring up
de sway of a tropical night:
de swirling skirts
de open shirts
wit' de Mount Gay Rum
an de orange spice.
lime juice an' frosted ice . .
an' de ... de... de ...
Here in my stupor, I drinkin' dreams to the Trinidad I'll never see.
This poetry is part of a larger collection entitled "Collecting from the Sea."
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Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
Mireya Robles
En La Otra Mitad Del Tiempo
La mujer con ojos de cartaginesa miraba hacia el mar y su mirada se extendia por muchos siglos. Era un ritual. Un rito. Encontrarse con el pasado en la vastedad silenciosa, en el vago rumor de espumas salobres. La manana fresca, el silencio perfilando su contorno. Sabia que habia vivido muchas reencarnaciones y el pasado, sin ficheros en los dedos, ausentaba datos. Pero ahi estaba, la carga de tensiones milenarias, y el mar. Y sobre todo, esa sensation de destino: un lugar y una fecha. Como una cita concertada antes del nacimiento. Era cuestion de convertir la muerte diaria en espera. Era cuesti6n de visualizar la silueta de ese otro ser, a la otra orilla de la tension del tiempo, surcando aliento y espacio, o inmovil, superando las heridas de un anhelo manso, recorriendo las venas de la piel para posarse en el calor de las manos. El encuentro. Era cuestion de encontrarse. Y alia, en la orilla, la arena humeda parecia encerrar todos los atomos del eco. Resonancia, voz: respuesta. La mujer intocada por las manos comunes que ruedan centavos y monedas, se dejaba acariciar por el aire, por una brisa que penetraba su hondo silencio. Atras habia quedado aquella casa que una vez, en otros siglos, habia sido habitada por esclavos. Ritos de santeria. Posesiones de espiritus que hablaban por boca del medium. Mensajes entrecortados de otras epocas que persistian en confluir con el presente. Pero la voz estrella-norte que debia indicarle el lugar de encuentro nunca se hizo cuerpo ni se dej6 oir entre los mensajes que lanzaban los que caian en trance.
Otra vez frente al mar, abierta a las sugerencias de aquellos ecos que encerraban su pasado. Las olas, como dociles obreros, depositaban, en la lentitud de sus gestos, pedazos de madera, cintas de algas, chapas de botellas, frascos. Un frasco. Un frasco de perfume. La mano de la mujer recogio el frasco y, abrazandolo en su suave firmeza, lo trajo hacia su silencio mas cercano. Su mirada se deposito en los cristales extranos, en el atomizador, y en aquel liquido herido de rayos de sol, que tenia la consistencia de aceites y oleos de uncion. Dejo que el aroma le tocara la piel y se sinti6 ya, como en otros siglos, preparada para salir de un recinto, esta vez, de un recinto abierto, hacia la biisqueda. Deposito, con un movimiento de vieja costumbre, el perfume sobre la piel de arena que le servia de tocador. Dirigi6 su mirada hacia la madera. Hacia aquel trozo de madera que yacia alii, pacientemente, como si la esperara. Sinti6 entre sus manos la humedad de la gruesa lamina de troncos y trato de descifrar las raras letras que formaban un mensaje en una lengua que ya hoy le era desconocida. Noto que la placa estaba meticulosamente partida en dos y se acerco al pecho las letras humedas, como abrazandolas. Sin tener un conocimiento preciso de lo que estaba sucediendo, creyo comprender. Se irguio lentamente y con el paso firme fue venciendo las lejanias de la playa. A lo lejos, la estacion. Y en el aislamiento de los railes, los trenes solitarios. Un boleto. El conductor con su gorra de visera. El rapido movimiento de imagenes sucesivas. Y en los altavoces, un nombre, un pueblo.
61


MaComere
Espero la parada definitiva del tren. Se sintio descender los escalones y de pronto, en el andeii. El grupo dilatado de pasajeros se disipo, espacio adentro, llevandose equipajes, saludos, abrazos. En el espacio limpio del and6n, la silueta de una mujer. Su mirada intensa, su contorno, tallado en el silencio. Inmovil. En la mano, la mitad de una lamina de madera con letras extranas.
Una breve pausa. Paz anhelante. Aliento entrecortado y profundo. Avanzaron para cortar la distancia. Se miraron a los ojos, y se reconocieron.
The Other Half of Time
The woman with the Cartagian eyes looked out to sea and her gaze extended over many centuries. It was a ritual. A rite. To meet the past in the silent vastness, in the vague murmur of the salty foam. The crisp morning, the silence outlining her silhouette. She knew that she had lived many reincarnations, and the past, without files at its fingertips, lacked information. But there she was, with the weight of a millennium's worth of tensions, and the sea. And above all, that feeling of destiny: a place and a date. Like an appointment made before birth. It was a question of transforming daily death into a period of waiting. It was a question of visualising that other being, on the other shore of time's tension, cleaving through air and space, or motionless, overcoming the wounds of a gentle desire running through the veins of her skin to rest in the warmth of her hands. The meeting. It was a question of finding one another. And there, on the other shore, the damp sand seemed to wrap around the atoms of an echo. Resonance, voice: reply. The woman, untouched by common hands that circulate cents and coins, allowed herself to be caressed by the air, by a breeze that penetrated her profound silence. Behind her there remained the house that once, in other centuries, had been inhabited by slaves. Rites of Santeria. Possession by spirits that spoke through the mouth of a medium. Choked messages from other eras that persisted in joining with the present. But the North-Star voice that should show her the meeting place never materialised nor allowed itself to be heard among the messages sprouted by those who fell into trances.
Once more facing the sea, open to the suggestions of those echoes that enclosed her past. The waves, like docile workers, deposited, in the slowness of their movements, pieces of wood, ribbons of seaweed, bottle caps, bottles. A bottle. A perfume bottle. The woman's hand picked up the bottle and, clasping it in her soft grasp, she drew it towards her closest silence. Her gaze alighted on the alien glass, on the atomizer, and on that liquid wounded by the rays of the sun, that had the consistency of unction oils. She allowed the scent to touch her skin and she felt then, like she had in other centuries, ready to leave a locale, this time an open area, to begin her search. She placed, with a movement of long habit, the perfume on the skin of sand that served her as a dressing table. She turned her gaze to the wood. Towards that piece of wood lying there, patiently, as if waiting for her. She felt the dampness
62


Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
of the thick plank between her hands and tried to make out the strange letters that formed a message in a language that today was already unknown to her. She noted that the board was meticulously cut in two and she drew to her breast the damp letters, as if to embrace them. Without having a precise awareness of what was happening, she believed she understood. She straightened slowly and with a firm step she conquered the expanse of the beach. In the distance, the station. And in the isolation of the tracks, the solitary trains. A ticket. The conductor with his visored cap. The quick movement of successive images. And over the loudspeaker, the name of a town.
She waited for the train to come to a complete stop. She felt herself descend the steps and suddenly appear on the platform. The extensive group of passengers dissipated into the building, carrying with them luggage, greetings, hugs. In the clean space of the platform, the silhouette of a woman. Her gaze, intense, her figure, carved in silence. Motionless. In her hand, half a plank of wood bearing strange letters.
A brief pause. A peace full of longing. A profound and ragged breath. They moved forward to shorten the distance. They looked in one another's eyes and recognised each other.
Translated by Susan Griffin
63


MaComere
Loreina Santos Silva
La Moira Aprieta Un Boton En La Computadora Cosmica
Confinado a las paredes de un apartamento, en supuesta soledad, despues del divorcio y digo supuesta soledad, porque uno se entera, sin querer queriendo, de todas las chillas, por lo menos, posterior a la sirvienta, uno se entera de la secretaria, uno se entera de la profesora de la Inter, con la que muchas veces, almorzaba en el comedor del Hospital, uno se entera de la gorda pelirroja que, tras la lucha calorienta, deja los rastros de pelos pintados en la cama, etc., etc., el Gorgo se levanta a la hora que le da la gana. Se prepara el desayuno, da su caminata y baja al supermercado a hacer la compra de rutina. Entre los articulos, el periodico. Sube la cuesta. Llega, trepa las escaleras, entra en el "hoyo," como 61 le llama al apartamento para ejercitar la paranoia progresiva y joderle la cabeza a las ninas en contra de la madre. No les dice lo que en justicia debia decirles: que prefiri6 irse al apartamento por no asumir los enormes gastos de reconstruction de la casa. Parsimomosamente, coloca los articulos en su justo lugar. Se pone a leer el peri6dico. Hablando solo, critica toda noticia de lo que no sea pro-americano. A la hora del almuerzo come frugalmente. Limpia la cocina, gracias a Dios porque el resto del apartamento tiene meses de polvo aposentado. Lee los libros de su interes, clasicos o sin clasicarse. Mira television. Por la tarde, sale con su amigo a los centres comerciales. Al oscurecer, vuelve a la rutina de ver la television que pone tan alta que muchas veces ni oye el telefono porque esta sordo como una tapia. Segun le dijo a una de las ninas, en el dia de hoy no se ha sentido muy bien. Se queda frente a la tele hasta muy entrada la noche viendo peliculas. Terminada la de la media noche, apaga el televisor, cierra la puerta de entrada, apaga las luces y se va a la cama. No ha pasado media hora cuando le sorprende un fuerte dolor. Siente como si una mano herculea le apretara la garganta, siente que le falta aire. El dolor se le antoja cada vez mas fuerte. Jadea en busca de oxigeno. Se desespera. Se aterra. Es entonces que recuerda todos los insultos, todos los vituperios, todas las calumnias, todas las humillaciones, todos los adulterios, todas las injurias en contra de la familia, todo el discrimen en contra de la Isla, toda la violencia fisica sobre el cuerpo de la ex, toda la crueldad mental, todo el maquiavelico juego de la paranoia progresiva que le plaga las celulas del cerebro, todo el manipuleo malintencionado a lo largo y lo ancho de la vida. Es entonces que recuerda la pela que le dio con la ayuda de la sirvienta mulatonga y zandunguera. Es entonces que recuerda que, despues de la paliza que ambos le dieron, la llevaba en alto para tirarla por el risco y que de una vez y por todas se matara. Es entonces que recuerda que salio al balc6n la nuera del vecino para frustrarle sus malas intenciones. Es entonces que recuerda que la ex bajo las escaleras cojeando, por la lesion de la rodilla izquierda, jurando no subirlas jamas. Es entonces que recuerda haber visto la nifla con la rubia inocencia, mostrandole, en su manita, el mazo de pelo, como nido de reinita, que le arranco la sirvienta a la madre, mientras le pateaba la espalda como una bestia. Es
64


Creative Fiction by Loreina Santos Silva
entonces que recuerda el lirio cala de las miles reputeadas, delante de la "mosquita muerta" de la madre que lo pari6, que estaba de visita. Es entonces que recuerda las veces que la obligo a abortar aiin sabiendo que la prenaba adrede porque el mismo confes6 haber alfilereado los condones para joderla. Es entonces que recuerda las cartas de protesta politica que ella, consciente de los conflictos mundiales, escribia pero que el las firmaba como suyas. Es entonces que recuerda las fiestas canceladas por envidia al impacto, de ella, ante los invitados. A cada invitation, le seguia un aluvion de injurias. Es entonces que recuerda, las cartas que le echaba al safacon para que no tuviera contacto con nadie, absolutamente nadie. Por esa razon, ella tuvo que rentar otro apartado para que ti la acusara de que era para recibir la correspondencia de los amantes. Es entonces que recuerda las cientos de veces que la amenazo con matarla si se atrevia a pedir el divorcio; las veces que le dijo que iba a morir de hambre con las hijas porque no le iba a dar un chavo prieto. Con una carcajada satanica le decia: -Van a comer mierda. Es entonces que recuerda las incontables veces que la agarraba, de mala manera, por un brazo y se la llevaba a la casa a los minutos de haber empezado una reception porque un conocido, amigo o colega la saludaba con demasiada confianza como si ella le estuviera coqueteandoles como puta barata. Es entonces que recuerda las veces que trato de estrangularla: la primera porque le anunci6 la separaci6n legal. Con los hematomas de sus dedos, impresos en la garganta, la llevaron al hospital. La segunda, por estar gastando agua regando sus plantas predilectas. Le dijo: -Si vuelves a regar, tendras que pagar la cuenta. Los hematomas del brazo retorcido le duraron muchas semanas. La tercera, fue frente a los libreros empotrados en la sala, cuando el trat6 de agarrarla por el cuello, la ex invoc6 la protecci6n de su madre muerta y el quedo estatua petrificada en intento de estrangularla. Se asusto tanto de su inmovilidad que salio corriendo de la casa. Es entonces que recuerda toda su maldad, sus lengueterias y discrimen en contra de todo lo que fuera puertorriquefio. Tal parece que sus fechorias no tuvieran fin. A cada exito de la ex, le pregunta que si los consiguio acostandose con rectores, decanos y otros machos. .. Es ahora que el asfixie le saca de cuajo la lengua, boa constrictor que ha querido sofocar a la ex, en cada tramo de la existencia. Es ahora que la lengua boa repite en retahila de metaforas como filos de navaja: odiosa, enferma, sifilitica y la lengua le crece, desventurada, libertina, mala madre y le crece, puta putana, hija de puta, nieta de la mapriola y le crece, la lengua boa baja entre las tetillas . bocona, vulgar, adultera y le crece, inepta, bruta, irresponsable y la lengua boa le crece, morona, despilfarradora, sin notion de futuro y le crece, estancada, lenta, perezosa y le crece, la lengua boa cruza en medio del ombligo .. idiota, negra, canibal y le crece, alcoh61ica, impedida, atolondrada y le crece, la lengua boa va por la pelvis .. sucia, comunista, cobarde y le crece, loca, desquiciada, inepta para el cuido de mis hijas . la lengua boa llega al pene, lo enrosca bien enroscado, lo hala, fuerte, bien fuerte, mas fuerte se lo arranca de cuajo. . Atropos, la terrible Moira, bruja de las tinieblas, hace un Hostos con la tijera....
65


MaComere
Moira Strikes a Key on the Cosmic Computer
Confined within the four walls of an apartment, supposedly in solitude after the divorceand I say supposedly in solitude, because you get to hearaccidentally-on-purposeabout all his mistresses, or at least the ones that came after the maid. You hear about the secretary, you hear about the I.U. professorthe one he had lunch with so many times at the hospital cafeteriayou hear about the fat redhead who after their torrid sessions would leave traces in the form of dyed hairs behind in the bed. Etcetera, etcetera. Gorgo gets up whenever he likes, fixes himself some breakfast, and takes a walk down to the supermarket to pick up the routine groceries. He also buys the newspaper. He climbs back up the hill. He gets to the building, goes up the stairs, steps into the "hole," as he calls the apartment, thus giving rein to his progressive paranoia and manipulating his daughters' minds against their mother. He doesn't tell them what they really ought to know: that he took the apartment so as not to have to deal with the enormous expense of rebuilding the family house. Slowly and deliberately, he places each article in its correct place. He begins to read the paper. Talking aloud to himself, he criticizes every news item that is not pro-American. He eats a frugal lunch. He cleans up the kitchenthank God, because the rest of the place is under a layer of several months of entrenched dust. He reads the books he's interested in, canonical or uncanonized. He watches tv. In the afternoons he goes out with his friend to the commercial centers. He returns at dusk to his tv-watching routine. Since he's as deaf as a post, he turns up the volume so loud that he can't even hear the phone. He told one of the girls that he hasn't been feeling very well today. He watches films on tv well into the night. When the midnight movie is over he turns off the tv, locks the front door, switches off the lights, and goes to bed. Less than half an hour goes by before he's attacked by an excruciating pain. He feels a Herculean hand grasping him by the throat. He can't breathe. The pain is getting worse and worse. He hyperventilates, gasping for oxygen. He becomes desperate. Terrified. Now he recalls all the insults he has hurled, all the vituperation, all the humiliation, all the adultery, all the affronts committed against the family, all the anti-Puerto Rican slurs, all the physical violence perpetrated on his ex, all the mental cruelty, the whole Machiavellian morass of progressive paranoia that's taking over his brain, the lifetime of ill-intentioned machination. Now he recalls the beating he gave her, aided by the sly, sultry mulatto maid. Now he recalls how, after that dual assault, he lifted her up to throw her over the cliff and finish her off once and for all. Now he recalls that the neighbor's daughter-in-law stepped out onto the balcony, frustrating his evil intentions. Now he recalls his ex limping painfully down the stairs, a wound in her left knee, swearing she'd never climb them again. Now he recalls their little girl in her blonde innocence holding in her tiny hand the clump of hair like a sparrow's nest that the maid had torn from her mother's head as she kicked her in the back like a wild animal. Now he recalls the calla lily of the thousand times he put her down in front of his mousy little hypocrite of a mother, who was visiting at the time. Now he
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Creative Fiction by Loreina Santos Silva
3 recalls the times that he forced her to abort their children, knowing full well that he had gotten her pregnant on purpose by poking holes in the condoms, so that she would be devastated. Now he recalls the letters of political protest that she, aware of the world's conflicts, would write and that he would sign as his own. Now he remembers the parties he canceled, envious of the impact she would have on their guests. Every invitation they received was followed by an avalanche of insults. Now he recalls the letters he threw into the garbage to isolate her from everyone, absolutely everyone. That was why she had to get herself her own post office box, but only to have him sneer that it was a ploy to receive letters from her lovers. Now he recalls the hundreds of times that he threatened to kill her if she should ever ask for a divorce; the times that he told her that she and the girls would starve to death because she was never going to get one thin dime from him. Laughing maniacally, he threatened, "You are all going to have to eat shit." Now he recalls the innumerable times when he would grab her arm and drag her home just minutes after a reception had begun because a male acquaintance, friend, or colleague had greeted her with too much familiarity and he claimed that she had been flirting like a cheap whore. Now he recalls the times he tried to strangle her; the first time because she had announced her impending legal separation from him. She was taken to the hospital with his fingermarks still on her throat. The second time was for wasting water on her favorite plants. "You'll pay for it if you water them again," he had threatened. The bruises on her twisted arm lasted for weeks. The third time he tried to grab his ex by the neck was in front of the built-in bookcases in the living room; she called upon her dead mother to help her, and he stopped dead, turned to stone in the very act of strangulation. He was so scared of his own immobility that as soon as he was able, he ran out of the house. Now he recalls all the abominable things he did, his spiteful tongue-lashings and denigration of all things Puerto Rican. The possibilities for humiliation seemed endless. Every time his ex enjoyed a success he would ask if she'd swung it by sleeping with university presidents, deans, and other members of the male sex. Now the lack of air is extruding his tongue, that boa constrictor bent on crushing the life out of his ex at every possible juncture of her life. Now the boa-tongue spits out a stream of metaphors like the edges of razors: sick, loathsome, syphilis-ridden bitch, and his tongue grows longer: pathetic idiot, trollop, unfit motherand it grows longer: slut, Jezebel, your mother was a whore, your grandmother's a strumpetand it grows, the boa-tongue slithers down under his nipplesloudmouth, trash, adulteress, and it grows: good-for-nothing, brutish, fecklessand the boa-tongue grows: moron, wastrel, derelict; and it growsretard, halfwit, layabout, and it grows, the boa-tongue digs into his navel: imbecile, throwback, cannibal, and it grows: stupid lush, ignoramus, dimwit, and it grows, the boa-tongue slides down to the pelvisfilthy, spineless, communist coward, and it grows, hysterical, raving psychopath,
incompetent mother to my daughters____The boa-tongue reaches the penis, winds
itself securely around it, gives it a strong tug, a very strong tug, an even stronger tug
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and it's out by the roots.... Athropos, the frightful Moiraa witch from the darkest depths of hell, makes a clean sweep with the scissors.
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Poetry by Hanitha Vet6-Congolo
Hanetha Vete-Congolo
Longing
Forgive me for saying it Forgive me For I know I
Parted
Forgive me For a child I
am now
Forgive me for saying it
Forgive me
For I know
Loving you
I
Could not
Forgive me for saying it To you
I
cried last night
When the shell of myself avenged
my self
for
the cell I
cried last night free sweet warm tears My offering to you
Free sweet warm along my cheek my arm
alone expert and straight my tears found the way


MaComere
to my thigh
and ready steady straight to my sex
ready steady straight entered
free sweet deep Steady steady steady my sex
Thicken my white warm scented jelly in my sex
steady steady steady to
the divine climax
of my tears
from my almond eyes
my gaunt cheek
my dark arm
my naked thigh
to
my sex
My offering to you
Forgive me for saying it
For
I
Parted I
cried last night And
for your shoulder
The strong bearer of my lamentations
my sweet
lovable
loved
madness
I was longing
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The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars ACWWS Founded in 1995, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Publications Editor: JACQUELINE BRICE-FINCH Managing Editor: JENNIFER L. GLASSCOCK Book Review Editor: BRENDA F. BERRIAN Creative Works Editor: OPAL PALMER ADISA Copy Editor: JOAN FREDERICK Foreign Language Editor: IVETTE ROMERO-CESAREO Contributing and Associate Editors:
KATHLEEN BALUTANSKY PAMELA MORDECAI
MYRIAM J. A. CHANCY PAULA MORGAN
MERLE COLLINS VELMA POLLARD
DARYL CUMBER DANCE MAUREEN ROBERTS
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES TANYA SAUNDERS
JANET HAMPTON ELAINE SAVORY
MARY HANNA RENEE H. SHEA
SUE HJNTZ PASCALE DE SOUZA
GETALESEUR HELEN PYNE-TIMOTHY
ANTONIA MACDONALD-SMYTHE
On-Line Editor: JEREMY CALEB JOHNSON
Editorial Assistants: KIMBERLY CRINER AND MELISSA VANASEK
Special Thanks: REBECCA FEIND, JUDITH GOOD, ROSE N. GRAY, DAVID K. JEFFREY, SHAUNA MILLER KARYN Z. SPROLES, VERA F. WELLS, AND INTERLIBRARY LOAN STAFF AT CARRIER LIBRARY
Published in part by James Madison University


MaComere Volume 4 ISSN 1521-9968
Copyright 2001 by Jacqueline Brice-Finch All rights reserved.
Submission Criteria for MaComere
MaComere is a refereed journal that is devoted to the scholarly studies and creative works by and about Caribbean women in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean diaspora. It is the journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, an international organization founded in 199S.
All writers and scholars who are members of ACWWS are invited to submit scholarly papers, creative works, interviews, or book reviews to the journal in Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. The webpage for Myomere is www.macomere.com. and the e-mail address is macomere(S),aol.com.
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1. Manuscripts submitted in triplicate. All material should follow the MLA Handbook of Research Papers.
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Members interested in writing book reviews for MaComere should contact Brenda F. Berrian, Book Review Editor, MaComere, Department of Africana Studies, 3T01 Posvar Quadrangle, University of Pittsburgh, 230 S. Bouquet St., Pittsburgh, PA 15260 USA. Telephone: 412-648-7542. Fax: 412-648-7214. E-mail: bberrian(S),pitt.edu.
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Cover logo by Marcia L. Spidell


Intersections in Ana Lydia Vega's "Pasi6n de historia"
Linda Craig
Intersections in Ana Lydia Vega's "Pasion de historia "
Ana Lydia Vega's short story "Pasion de Historia" traces its path through the intersections of three major areas of contemporary theory, namely postmodernism, post-colonialism, and feminism. Vega clearly engages with the three, and the purpose of this article is, firstly, to examine how this is done and, secondly, to explore the ramifications of these ideas in the context of contemporary Puerto Rico.
The United States has wielded overt political influence on the island since 1898, the year in which the island ceased to be a Spanish colony. This historic event, however, did not herald independence but, rather, further colonizationthis time by the U.S. The issue is extremely contentious within Puerto Rico, which is currently officially termed a "commonwealth."1 It is not surprising therefore that, in this age of what is basically the globalization of American culture, Puerto Rico, even more than other countries, has absorbed many facets of U.S. culture into its daily workings. This is particularly apparent in "Pasi6n de historia."
One of the major areas of contention has been the Spanish language, often considered, not without justification, to be under threat from the might of the English language.2 For much of the twentieth century, intellectuals and writers from the island were largely involved in emphasizing the importance of Spanish and of the Hispanic nature of Puerto Rican culture. Juan Gelpi refers to this as "el canon paternalista," which he says "defiende una visi6n jerarquica, paternalista, de Puerto Rico y de su historia" (95) [defends a hierarchical, paternalist vision of Puerto Rico and its history (my translation)]. He and others, such as Vicky Unruh (154), talk of the importance of writers of the seventies (including Rosario Ferre\ Luis Rafael Sanchez, and Ana Lydia Vega) who caused a radical shift in Puerto Rican letters and broke with the narrow parameters of those who refused to acknowledge the voices of women or of African Puerto Ricans, indeed, which excluded any reading of Puerto Rico other than its own.
The resulting work proved to be much more inclusive in many ways. Women found a voice outside of the confines of domesticity and poesia lirica; popular culture became a valid subject for discussion and exploration, and the African dimension of Puerto Rican culture gained a recognition it had previously lacked.3 Moreover, the reality of the language spoken, which is often marked by the strong influence of English, is now frequently addressed in a descriptive rather than the previously prescriptive manner. This is not to say that, in the face of globalization, the earlier notion of a Hispanic national identity as described by Gelpi above has been forgotten but rather that the narrow definition of Hispanism has been problematized.
In Vega's writing, these different critical and theoretical fields take the form of cross currents or intersections which appear to converge on the island4. Much of her work deals with different views of the political and cultural forces at play there, and in "Pasi6n de Historia," as in so many of her other stories, the island serves not as
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a backdrop but rather as an active, dynamic, presence.
I shall now address the three theoretical fields, using them as a means of shedding light on different aspects of the story in order to examine how these relate to the context of contemporary Puerto Rico.
Postmodernism
In their introduction to A Postmodern Reader, Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon start with a broad exploration of postmodernism which highlights some of the characteristics and issues coming together under the umbrella of this notion which for them is "no more ignorable then is the air we breathe; in a sense, it is the social and cultural air we breathe" (viii). They consider postmodernity to have opened the way to "cultural studies" that investigates areas which among others include "gender and sexuality, nationhood and national identity, colonialism and post-colonialism, race and ethnicity" (viii). The theoretical fields broached in this reading of "Pasi6n de historia," according to such a notion are not discreet but rather form part of a continuum which has opened up to us thanks to what they refer to as the epistemological break which is postmodernity.
Natoli and Hutcheon talk of "cultural forms that display certain characteristics such as reflexivity, irony, parody, and often a mixing of the conventions of popular and 'high art"'(vii). Many of these characteristics are to be found in "Pasion de historia," and I shall now examine how Vega's story corresponds to these and other features of the postmodern.
First and foremost, "Pasion de historia" is overtly reflexive. It is a story about a person writing a story; in fact, not only is she writing it but in a sense she is actually watching the story being enacted and living it. The narrator introduces herself within the story as a writer, Carola Vidal, who is researching and writing a story about a woman who has been murdered by her ex-lover. While the story that we are reading is not the precise story that she is writing, the reader is introduced to the process of writing and is also made aware of the limitations of the narrator. Far from having any privileged overview, the narrator is at pains to show the reader the workings and the inevitable limits of her reading of the story. This reflexive device is not actually specifically postmodernit has been used in literature through the agesbut it is claimed as a feature of postmodernism and it has an important role to play within this context since it alerts the reader to this and therefore any text's inherent limitations.
Moreover, her reading of the story is not based on the notion of there being one single true version of the facts. She is not searching out an essential truth. Rather, the narrator has gathered together information from a number of different sources, mainly from local newspapers and from her mother and others who live in the condominium where the murder was committed, and her interest lies not in uncovering the true facts, for she is not questioning these, but rather in searching out a
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Intersections in Ana Lydia Vega's "Pasi6n de historia"
different viewpoint, a different reading of the events. Whereas the version she describes from her sources condemns the murder victim for her lifestyle, this narrator's interest is in highlighting the mindset behind this reading and in offering different perspectives. Her reading can be read from a much more feminist light, so I shall address it in more detail in the later section on feminism.
Another distinctive feature of "Pasion de historia" is the use of language which draws attention to itself. The story is written in an eclectic mixture of registers and languages. It opens with a quotation from Alfred Hitchcock: "What is drama after all, but life with all the dull bits cut out" (5). This is quoted in English with no translation. The body of the text then starts like this: "La carta de Vilma lleg6 como respiraci6n boca a boca, photofinish hist6ricamente oportuno que vino a remolcarme de uno de esos lios en que me meto casi por vocaci6n" (7).5 "When Vilma's letter arrived, it was like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I'd gotten myself into another one of those iffy situations I was beginning to think I had some kind of perverse calling for" (3).
The letter is one from Carola's friend Vilma, a Puerto Rican woman married to a Frenchman, who is inviting her friend over to spend some time with her in France. It is written in a language of transcoding and hybridity which draws the reader into a discourse which is extremely colloquial and which owes more to spoken than to written language. The change of language to English, "photofinish," is this time italicized, but again there is no translation, so the switching of codes is normalized as a feature of everyday spoken language. It is noteworthy that further down on the same page mention is made of "el Oscar de best supporting actor" (7). In both cases English is used in the context of film or media, highlighting the predominance of that language in that world. This spoken language is indicative of a kind of slang spoken by young Puerto Ricans which incorporates many Anglicisms into their Spanish.
The colloquial tone and the switching of codes point to a discourse which eschews any notion of purity or of fixity in language and which embraces a dynamic of growth, change and mixing.
However, while Spanglish may be in the process of becoming normalized as discourse in Puerto Rico and amongst Hispanics in the United States, the mixing of languages does not stop there. In the course of the story we find Latin, in flagranti (8); a posteriori (8); Italian, ciao ciao bambino (9)(a famous Italian song from the fifties); and later, in French, femme fatale (10), coup de theatre, menage a trois (12), and many more. Perhaps the most amusing use of language crossing is the hispanicized version of the French c 'est la vie: 'Se la vi' (9), which renders the French phonetically, but which slyly nods to a famous dirty joke in Spanish.
This mixture therefore involves, in the first place, the use of different European languages which blend together in a way that understates their possible "foreignness." This is followed, in the second place, by a mixing of different registers, which range from slang and extremely colloquial language to the above-mentioned
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Latin expressions. Also, what is to be found is a vast range of references which encompass, amongst other areas, English literature; for example, "tenia mi muy woolfiano cuarto propio para poder al fin dedicarme a escribir" (7) ["I had a very Woolfian room of my own where I could finally get some writing done" (4)]. Other allusions refer to Italian pop songs (again mentioned above),daytime television, El Show de mediodla (10), French film, "(d)el oscuro objeto de su putativo deseo" (10), a play on the title of one of Bufiuel's French films, That Obscure Object of Desire, one of many references to French film, and also fairy tales as in Bluebeard.
Despite the massive disparities within this hybrid text, the jumps from high to popular culture, for example, there is no indication that any one of them has a greater claim to notions such as accuracy or truth than any other. Indeed there is no question of there being any form of hierarchy within this curious mixture. No one language or register or indeed reference is presented as being more authoritative than any other. There is, thus, a superficiality to the text which brings to mind to Fredric Jameson's6 landmark essay on postmodernism where he talks of "the emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality in the most literal senseperhaps the supreme formal feature of all postmodernisms" (60)
While Diana Velez (qtd. in Rodriguez 836) describes Vega's ideal reader as "island puertorriquefio" (qtd. in Rodriguez 836), I would like to add that the reader is highly educated and able to pick up on most, if not all, of these references which highlight the intersections within Puerto Rican culture. The language is this particular, Anglicized version of Spanish; the literature is European and/or perhaps reacting against earlier Puerto Rican male classics; the myths and fairy tales are European; the films are European and American; and the allusions are to different areas of Puerto Rican culture such as Vocero (8) or Dani Rivera (10). This self-aware intertextuality creates a work that is indisputably postmodern.
Postcolonialism
The dangers of reading a Puerto Rican text from a postmodern perspective include what P. Childs and P. Williams describe in this context as "a continuation of Western hegemonic practice" (204). They quote Helen Tiffin: "Post-modernism is Europe's export to what it regards as 'margins'" (202). So while it can provide valuable tools for reading this text, there exists the possibility that it can "neutralize" some aspects of the text that could be read more fruitfully from a different perspective. Tiffin goes on to say that "by contrast, post-colonial writing... moves from colonized, formerly colonized and neo-colonized areas ... towards Europe, or more recently, towards the United States" (202).
The difficulties inherent in Puerto Rico's status as a virtual colony of the United States are made apparent in "Pasi6n de historia." Luigi Imperiale, who emphasizes the importance of considering the social context of the story, addresses this relationship talking of "lapresencia-indeseada-del-gringo-en-tierra-boricua" (144)
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Intersections in Ana Lydia Vega's "Pasi6n de historia"
["the undesired presence of gringos on Puerto Rican soil" (my translation)]. He goes on to cite moments when this is referred to in the story, as for example where the Puerto Rican people's lack of representation within the world of international diplomatic relations becomes apparent: "pedir asilo en la embajada puertorriquena focual?)" (30) ["requesting asylum in the Puerto Rican Embassy. What Puerto Rican Embassy?"(33)]. Earlier the narrator describes herself as "sintiindome como acusada puertorra en corte federal gringa" (29) ["Feeling like the Puerto Rican defendant in the Yankee Federal Court" (32)], or "Era un veinticinco de julio, infausta fecha de la pseudoconstitucidn puertorriquena y de la aun mas infausta invasi6n yanqui a nuestras placidas riberas. Vilma decreto que la ocasion mandaba arroz con habichuelas en contra-conmemoraci6n de las dudosas efem6rides" (21) ["It was July 25, the dark Puerto Rican (pseudo-) Constitution Day and the even darker anniversary of the Yankee invasion of our peaceful shores. Vilma decreed that the day called for rice and beans, in counter-commemoration of the questionable occasion" (22)]. The narrator is clearly highly critical of the political situation that Puerto Rico finds itself in vis-a-vis the United States.
The text also reveals an awareness of the African influence in Puerto Rican culture where the narrator cites her mother's fear that there is some kind of voodoo spell on the building where she lives, "el edificio tenia un fufu echado" (10) ["somebody had put a spell on the building" (5)], but the repercussions of the African presence on the island do not stop there. Continuing with the narrator's mother, we find that she prefers paler skin, for as Carola describes her appearance in the wake of a bout of flu in France she mentions casually, "Estoy... jincha tambien, lo cual le encantaria a Mami, adicta a la pomada Porcelana" (27) ["I'm pale, too, which my mother, the Porcelana Cream queen, would love" (29)]. Colonialism and its slave-trading past have left in their wake yet another society where social status and colour are tragically entwined. But while this issue is dealt with in much greater detail in other stories by Vega,7 what is really turned on its head in "Pasi6n de historia" is the idea of the exotic.
Europe's fascination with the exotic other goes back at least as far as the conquistadores who projected their myths on to the "new world." The name of Patagonia, for example, which derives from Spanish myths, is one reflection of this. Subsequently there is the notion taken up by Jean Jacques Rousseau of the noble savage, another European imposition projected on to the colonized world. Part of the intention of the post-colonial project has been to question and explore this mindset. To define people as exotic is to objectify them, to relegate them to the ranks of other, and titles such as The Empire Writes Back, one of the famous post-colonial works, point to a deliberate intention on the part of its writers to claim subjecthood and to refuse this imposition. Vega does something different with this idea: rather than simply claiming subjecthood, she turns the notion around 360 degrees and paints a picture of Europe as the exotic other.
Such a notion is addressed by the Mexican-American performance artist,
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Guillermo G6mez Pefta, where he conjurs up a scenario based on "what if?":
The other strategy was the whole idea of playing with philosophical contingencies, with 'what ifs': What if the continent turned upside down, what if English became Spanish, what if the Mexicans were in the centre, what if Amerindia had discovered Europtzin?This was a very interesting strategy that I still utilize. Positioning ourselves in a fictional centre, pushing the dominant culture to the margin, exoticizing, anthropologizing the dominant culture .. turning and forcing the dominant culture to become the other. (159)
"Pasi6n de historia" plays this very trick. It is a mirror image of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Juvenal Urbino in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, who, earlier in the century, claimed to keep in touch with reality while living on the Caribbean coast by reading the latest French novels, a clear indication of his colonized mind. Vilma of the Vega novel, living in a folkloric, rural French setting sees herself as keeping in touch with reality by reading the Puerto Rican papers. Within this alternative fiction, Puerto Rico becomes the centre from which France, and perhaps by extension Europe, is viewed, and the resulting images are humorously stereotypical.
Partly in order to get away from her former lover and partly in order to fulfill the dream of a lifetime, Carola sets off to visit her friend who is spending the summer in "un pueblecito de los Pirineos franceses, idea platonica del exotismo para esta triste criatura de los Tr6picos"(l 1) ["A little village in the French Pyrenees. That, to a jeune-fille triste from the tropics, was the Platonic ideal of exoticism" (9)]. The exoticizing gesture is clearly stated, and, moreover, there is a passing dig at Claude Levi Strauss's Tristes Tropiques, and at the anthropological project, which, as G6mez Pefia infers, is so often based on "First World" readings of "Third World" societies. The very reference to the anthropological text at this point and in this context brings into question its perspectives and opens up the possibility of a project such as that suggested by G6mez Pefia of "exoticizing, anthropologizing the dominant culture" and then, with yet another remark emphasizing the reversal of perspectives, she states, "ciuce" por fin el charco de los Conquistadores" (13) ["I finally crossed the Conquistadors' pond" (my translation)].
Here, in a series of images which border on caricature, Carola proceeds to describe rural France bringing with her the perspectives and prejudices of an educated outsider. She talks of "El paisaje de tarjeta postal... salpicado de personajes folkl6ricos" (13) ["the picture-postcard landscape was still there, but now spotted with folk figures" (11)], and then, on meeting Vilma's French parents-in-law, describes them as, "61 con su boina negra y su bast6n; ella con un el delantal; puesto y cafetera en mano; los dos muy arquetipo de pareja francesa de provincia via Chabrol (13) ["him with his black beret and cane, her with her apron on and coffee pot in hand, the two of them the archetypal French provincial couple by way of Claude Chabrol" (12)].
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Intersections in Ana Lydia Vega's "Pasi6n de historia"
Moreover, the received notion of Europe as metropolis and the Americas as picturesque and perhaps in the case of the Caribbean as lush, tropical, and unindustrialized is turned around by Carola, who says, "Respire" profundo para purgarme los pulmones de treinta alios de contamination urbana en San Juan" (13) ["I breathed deep, to cleanse my lungs of thirty years of urban pollution in San Juan" (11)]. Europe in this story is rural, old fashioned, and quaint, while Puerto Rico is represented by the urban decay of San Juan as referred to her apartment on "calle de Humacao, territorio ... perfumado ocasionalmente por fragancias de alcantarilla desbordada" (9) ["Humacao Street,... the fragrance of overflowing sewers" (3-4)].
The description of her room in France with its fireplace and deer's head on the wall brings to mind a foreigner's notion of that which is typical while the frequent references to French home-cooking and customs emphasize again how the world which Carola sees corresponds to her expectations. Many of these expectations are based on what she has seen in films and read. The reference to Chabrol cited above is one of many to the world of film, such as "la ciudad medieval de pelicula" (19) ["the city, which was so medieval that it looked almost like a movie set" (19)], or "Los primeros dos aflos fueron de felicidad filmica" (14) ["The first two years had been like something out of a movie" (13)]. As far as books are concerned, the number and breadth of the references, all European, is enormous. Amongst others, the situation is "tan (so) Daphne du Maurier" (15), Paul is a "reencarnacion caucasica del Moro de Venecia" (15) ["Caucasian incarnation of the Moor of Venice"(14)] or Bluebeard, his mother is Madame Yocasta (15), or "la Bruja de Blanca Nieves" (19) ["the Witch from the Seven Dwarves" (19)], Vilma is "Josephine de Beauharnais" or "Vilma Bovary" (15).
The references to film and literature continue, but the general impression that the reader gets is that of a perception that is constantly overtly mediated by different forms of culture. Taking into account Barthes's notion that there is no such thing as an innocent reading, what we have here is a constant highlighting of this fact. The narrator is drawing the reader's attention to the lenses through which she is viewing the world. It is a further example of the self-reflexive nature of the text; indeed there is a section during her time in France when Carola tells the reader that what we are reading at this point is a diary that she is keeping. As far as the post-colonial project is concerned, this re-reading of Europe, no longer a centre from which other parts of the world are marginalized, but rather the marginalized other itself, manifestation of exotic literary myths, shows how longstanding European colonialist projections can equally be turned around the other way. The post-colonial notion referred to above of claiming subjecthood is extended humorously and subtly, not to the idea of a level playing field but rather to a reversal of roles.
The reading of "Pasion de historia" through a post-colonial lens, therefore, opens the text up to possibilities which postmodernity alone would not allow.
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Feminism
There is no doubt that there is feminist thought in "Pasi6n de historia." Carola refers to her "instinto feminista [feminist instincts]" (12). Her "Gran Novela Puertorriquefla" (11) ["The Great Puerto Rican Novel" (9)], is based on the story of Maten, murdered by her ex-boyfriend for sleeping with his friend. And, while the anecdote is not in itself feminist, the point of view of the narrator definitely is. She begins by satirizing the narrow, traditional, prejudices of Malen's neighbours both male and female, who describe Malen as: "Esa mujer tan indecente paseandose desnuda por el pasillo de noche, un-hombre-diferente-cada-dia y con razon tuvole que pasar lo que pas61e" (8) ["this indecent woman roaming the halls stark naked at night, a-different-man-every-day, no wonder what happened to her happened to her" (5)]
The criticism of the victim rather than of her murderer continues: "Por estar rezando no fue, epitafia del Club de Esposas Condominadas mientras Machistas Unidos Jamas Seran Jodidos recoge la consigna heroica del asesino que se entrega al dia siguiente en el cuartel de Hato Rey: La pique" porque me la pego, version urbanamente prosaica del viejo Mia o de naiden." (9) ["It wasn't for staying at home and saying her rosarythat was the epitaph composed by the Condominated Wives' Club, while the Real Men's Society, San Juan Chapter, took for its motto the heroic words of the murderer as he turned himself in at the Hato Rey station the next day: / cut her up 'cause she cut me out. Which was the urban lowlife version of the standard macho "Mine or Nobody's" (6)]. And there is no doubt that the narrator, while fascinated with the story, is hoping to rewrite it from another perspective where the chief protagonist, rather than this questionable "hero" is the tragic Malen, and where this "otra pedestre historia de pasi6n"' (8) ["another run-of-the-mill story of passion" (5)] becomes the great Puerto Rican novel, one which it seems would rewrite Puerto Rican history from a different perspective, one more sympathetic towards women.
The narrator herself, who has split up with the married man she has been seeing in the memorable first paragraphs of the story, claims her independence as a single woman, first by moving to new lodgings and then by going to France. She soon discovers while she is in Puerto Rico, however, that, echoing of the story of Mal6n, she is being stalked by the ex-lover.
Here an interesting aspect of sexual politics arises when the narrator's neighbour, "ama de casa con genes detectivescos" (9) ["a housewife with bloodhound genes" (7)], not unlike the narrator herself, tells her about the man who is constantly driving past her window. Carola's response to this is twofold. Her first reaction is to confess to the reader that she feels secretly flattered, but her second is to "manifestar un recatado disgusto ante aquel alerta de huracan para mi supuesta castidad" (10) ["I put on a grand show of disgust and fear at that threat to my supposed chastity" (8)]. Feminist or not, she feels the need to bow to society's notion that a single woman is a virgin. As in the example of Maleii above, double standards reign. A woman's
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reputation is all important.
Another aspect of the women's behaviour is highlighted by Andrea Ostrov in an article on this story, "Escritura femenina/escritura especular" where she refers to the confining roles that the female protagonists find themselves playing. She cites the image of Carola's returning from school "con los dedos enroscados de dolor dentro de los tacos de cuatro pulgadas que recetaba la elegancia" (10) ["my toes twisted in agony within the four-inch heels prescribed by fashion" (7)], of which Ostrov says "Dolor que aludiria, por cierto, al dolor que en otro nivel implica la adaptation de lo propio espontaneo a una pauta de conducta estereotipada, cristalizada y conventional" (79) [Pain which would no doubt allude, to the pain implied by the adaptation of individual spontaneity to behavioural norms which are stereotypical, rigid and conventional (my translation)]. Ostrov links the unspontaneous, stereotypical nature of the behaviour of Carola and the other women in the story to the notion of acting out, citing a number of examples in the text where this idea is stated overtly. Acting out, as she points out, denotes a certain specularity, so that these women observe themselves within their symbolic prisons, playing their roles under the watchful eyes of men.
This specularity brings to mind a quotation from W.E.B. Dubois in the context of race in the U.S., in which he talks of double consciousness, saying, "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness.. .." Dubois' lucid observation (qtd. in Puleo 24) forms part of what is a broadly political project. I would suggest that Vega's allusion to what is after all a similar insight points to one of the ways in which, by means of humour and the depiction of everyday situations, feminist thinking manifests itself within the text. This work, like Dubois's The Souls of Black Folk, can be viewed as political.
The male/female relationship most closely described in the story is that of Carola's friend Vilma and her husband, the Frenchman Paul. Here, in a situation that Carola finds extremely disappointing, she remarks: "Mi esquema prefabricado del anthropos frances se vino abajo sin gratia. Yo que me los imaginaba tan sofisticados, tan ivoluis, tan Sartre y Beauvoir" (14) ["Then and there the roof fell in on my pret-a-porter notions of the Gallic homme typique. I'd pictured French men as so sophisticated, so evoluis, so Sartre and Beauvoir" (14)].
In fact, Paul is a hunter, surely another reference to the discourse of anthropology and to the traditional image of man as hunter, another means of pointing out his lack of evolution. According to his wife, he does not allow her to go out to work and indeed discourages her from talking to people. He expects her to spend her life in the kitchen. As Carola puts it, "El marido de Vilma dejaba niflo de teta al mas vil de los machistas insulares" (14) ["Vilma's hubby left our own island machos in the shade" (14)]. Without at any level excusing her compatriots, she undermines yet another of the myths surrounding Latin American culture, the notion that Hispanic
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men have a virtual monopoly on machismo.
Carola's attitude to her friend and her husband is, nevertheless, ambivalent. She always retains an awareness that she is hearing only one side of the story, even when Vilma describes a rape scene between them, and she is quite critical of Vilma's flirtation with the visiting doctor. Her attitude towards her friend is never really clear cut, and, moreover, she is not above feeling a certain attraction towards Paul herself. There is a level at which these women collude with patriarchal norms thus undermining the notion of solidarity and at the same time their feminist beliefs.
Ultimately, I would suggest, however, that the story addresses the notion that patriarchal society still punishes women who step out of line. Carola likens Paul to Bluebeard, of European folk tales, another counter-projection. Bluebeard, of course, is renowned for having murdered his numerous wives, but the image has further connotations. Marina Warner addresses the topic of Bluebeard, pointing out that there is a link between his character and the myth of Psyche. The connecting idea here is that of the female gaze: in the same way that Psyche was undone by daring to gaze at the male, the forbidden so to were the wives of Bluebeard undone by unlocking the only room in the castle forbidden to them and thus seeing, gazing at, his previous victim.
In "Pasi6n de historia," two, and perhaps three, women are dead by the end of the story, each one condemned in a sense for gazing at, or engaging in, matters which transcend the limits imposed on them by society. Mal6n has broken the rules by sleeping with her ex-lover's best friend and died for it; Vilma's case as ever is less clear, but she is not responding to Carola's letters and the possibility of her death is definitely there; perhaps she has been punished for her flirtatious behaviour; and, lastly, the story closes strikingly with a notice announcing the death of its narrator, shot in the head by an unknown assailant. By turning detective, the reader this time can connect the links and parallels between the stories within the story and the clues given to surmise that Carola has been murdered by her ex-lover, the stalker. She has been undone by her decision to leave her man and also by her "pasi6n de historia," her love of writing and her insatiable curiosity.
The dangers of the values of the "prensa amarilla" (gutter press) with its "moraleja reaccionaria para mujeres chochicalientes" (7) ["and a reactionary moral to the tail: beware you girls who are hot to trot" (4)] are still not to be underestimated. Feminism still has a long way to go.
In conclusion, this reading of Vega's story has explored its engagement with postmodernism, post-colonialism, and feminism. These three theoretical fields all in some way relate to the notion of identity. What is central to the story is a reading of the different, sometimes conflicting, strands which intersect to create what might be defined as Puerto Rican identity as we go into the 21st century. The fragmentation and relativism which are so much part of postmodernism; the tensions around Puerto Rico's status vis-a-vis colonialism and the image of Europe as other, issues central to post-colonialism; and, finally, the exploration of the current state of the feminist
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project all come together in a story which combines humour, tragedy, and politics in a gracefully written, witty inquiry into Puerto Rico's cultural identity.
NOTES
1. Rosario Ferre decribes in vivid terms some of the tensions in Puerto Rico which arise from the political situation vis-a-vis the U.S. Such are the divisions between Puerto Ricans who run the gamut from those who want total independence to those who want the island to become another state within the U.S., that she talks of "una guerra civil soterrada y sorda" (109) [a hidden, deaf civil war (my translation)]. Vega, herself, in an essay entitled "De bipeda desplumada a escritora puertorriquena con E y P machusclas: textimonios autocensurados" talks of the difficulties of being a Puerto Rican writer and particularly a woman writer. Here she explains that she finds it impossible not to address the island's political situation in her works.
2. An outline of the history of the different language policies that the United States have adopted towards Puerto Rico which have varied from an attempt to impose English as the language of instruction at all levels to an acceptance of Spanish as the primary language and English as the primary second language can be found in an article by Vicky Unruh, "Like English for Spanish: Meditaciones desde la frontera angloriquena." In this same article she examines the differing attitudes over time taken towards these languages by different writers from the island. Vega talks of her own linguistic education and the difficulties that arose in an essay entitled "Pulseando con el dificil."
3. Unless otherwise stated the English translations quoted in this article are from "True Romances" in True and False Romances, a selection of Vega's short stories translated by Andrew Hurley.
4. The African presence in Puerto Rico is touched on in many of Vega's stories, such as "Pollito/Chicken." It is addressed overtly in Ferre's "Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres" and it is discussed in socio/historical terms in a famous essay, "El pais de cuatro pisos" by Jose Luis Gonzalez.
5. The image of these different fields intersecting on the island brings to mind Antonio-Benitez Rojo's The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective, where the critic explores the different crosscurrents at play, historical, political, economic, social and anthropological, within Caribbean culture, which he describes as a "metamachine of differences" (18). He later talks of the area's "extremely complex cultural spectrum (soup of signs)" (314). This article attempts to uncover some of these signs at play in contemporary Puerto Rico.
6. Mary Gossler Esquilin argues that racism in Puerto Rico is not only the result of Spanish colonial practices and beliefs but also of the influence of the United States with its particular brand of racism. She examines two of Vega's stories, "Pollito/Chicken" and "Puerto Principe abajo," both from Virgenes y Mdrtires, pointing out how the writer has explored and presented the different forms of racism wthin them.
7. Carola's ambivalence is examined by Becky Boling who asks: "When the modem woman occupies the privileged stance formerly defined by and limited to the male (shall we say as detective?), does she really subvert patriarchy or does she unwillingly perpetuate the ideology of the dominant order?" (89). She explores this question first in relation to the case
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of Malen, where she concludes that Carola "assumes both stances and that these stances are indiscernibly linked" (91). In the case of Vilma, Boling suggests that Carola's identification with the masculine subject viewing Vilma as victim, and her "failure to intercede to prevent the crime that she foresees" (93), are a sign of her "tacit complicity" (93). Both of these conclusions place Carola in an ambiguous situation in terms of her feminism.
WORKS CITED
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and
Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective.
London and Durham: Duke UP, 1996. Boling, Becky. "The Reproduction of Ideology in Ana Lydia Vega's 'Pasibn de historia' and
'CasoOmiso.'"LermjFeOTew'wa5XVII, 1-2,1991. 89-97. Childs, P. and P. Williams. An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. Harlow: Prentice Hall,
1997.
Ferre, Rosario. El coloquio de las perras. Editorial Cultural, 1990.
. "Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres." Papeles de Pandora. Mexico: Joaquin Mortiz, 1976.
Gelpi, Juan. "Ana Lydia Vega: ante el debate de la culture national de Puerto Rico." Revista
Chilena deLiteratura 42 (1993): 95-99. Gonzalez, Jose Luis. "El pais de cuatro pisos." El pais de cuatro pisosy otros ensayos. San
Juan: Huracan, 1980.
Gosser Esquilin, Mary. "La transculturacibn racial y sexual: ^Treta posmoderna de Ana Lydia
Vega?" Chasqui 29.2 (2000): 108-121. Imperiale, Luigi. "Apalabrarse con su mundo: Construccidn palimpsestica sobre 'Pasibn de
historia' de Ana Lydia Vega." Discurso femenino actual. Ed. Adelaida Lopez
de Martinez. Puerto Rico: U of Puerto Rico P, 1995. Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism." New Left Review
146(1984): 53-92.
Kraniauskas, John. "Border Dialogue: Talking to Guillermo G6mez Pefia." Travesia 3.1-2 (1993): 152-177.
Natoli, Joseph, Linda Hutcheon, eds. A Postmodern Reader. Albany: State U. of New York P, 1993.
Ostrov, Andrea. "Escritura ferninina/ Escritura especular.'Vlcfa Literaria (Concepci6n) 16 (1991): 77-82.
Puleo, Augusto. "Ana Lydia Vega, the Caribbean Storyteller." Afro-Hispanic Review Fall 1996: 21-25.
Rodriguez, Linda. "Ana Lydia Vega: Puerto Rican prose writer." Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. Ed. Verity Smith. London: Fitzroy Dearborne, 1997.
Unruh, Vicky. "Like English for Spanish: Meditaciones desde la frontera angloriquena." SigloXX/2ffh Century 1-2 (1997): 147-162.
Vega, Ana Lydia. "De bipeda desplumada a escritora puertorriquena con E y P machusculas: textimomios autocensurados." La torre del viejo 1 (1984): 44-48.
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. Pasion de historia y otras historias de pasion. Buenos Aires: de la Flor, 1987. . "Pollito/Chicken." Virgenesymdrtires. Con Carmen Lugo Filippi. Rio Piedras: Antillana, 1981.
. "Pulseando con el dificil." Personalidady literatura puertorriqueflas. Eds. Hilda E.
Quintana, Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Gladys Vila Barnes. Rio Piedras: Plaza
Mayor, 1996. 13-18. . True and False Romances. London: Serpent's Tail, 1994. 3-40 Warner, Marina. From the Beast to the Blonde. London: Vintage, 1995.
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Irline Francois
The Daffodil Gap: Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy
In Lucy (1990) Jamaica Kincaid explores the ambiguities, contradictions and the violence of British colonial ideology, its Victorian mores as well as the debilitating legacy of the Plantation system on the mind, body and the memory of her heroine. Kincaid's feisty protagonist scrutinizes the signs of hegemony in the context of emigration. Most significantly, in her representation of Mariah, the well-meaning but naive white woman, Kincaid exposes the historical gulf which separates white and black feminism. In this paper, I focus primarily on Lucy's dialogue with Mariah. I demonstrate that Lucy's relationship with her employer is often marred because of ideological, cultural and class divisions and because of the heroine's unresolved relationship with her mother. She dismisses Mariah with condescending scorn, not only for her lack of awareness of social and racial inequalities but also for her employer's attempt to intellectualize and universalize women's experiences in a homogenous paradigm. At the same time, however, Lucy remains inexorably drawn to Mariah, in part due to the woman's many acts of generosity and kindness extended to her. employee.
Given the fact Jamaica Kincaid grew up in a colonial context completely dominated by the metropolitan dictates inculcated by the mother, her own is viewed as an instrument of patriarchy, a phallic mother. In Lucy, the mother-daughter relationship permeates the narrative with a feminine potency. The mother figure is made even more potent for she represents the values and structures of the metropolis as well as the feminine mores embodied in the Victorian cult of womanhood from which the daughter desperately seeks to wrest herself. The mother is viewed as an instrument of old patriarchal mores. It is thus in this context that Adrienne Rich's study on mothers and daughters in Of Woman Born becomes particularly relevant to Kincaid's Lucy.
In her study on motherhood and daughterhood, Adrienne Rich attributes the term Matrophobia, or the fear of becoming one's mother, to daughters who see their mothers as having taught a compromise of self-hatred and as having transmitted the restrictions and degradations of a female existence. Rich further explains that it is easier by far to reject a mother outright than to see beyond her the forces acting upon her. Although the mother is hated to the point of matrophobia, there may also be a deep underlying pull toward her, a dread that if one relaxes one's guard, one will identify with her completely. Rich concludes that Matrophobia can be seen as a splitting of the self in the desire to become purged once and for all of our mother's bondage, to become individuated and free. In her search for selfhood, Lucy fights in order to achieve an individuality of her own. And therein lies Lucy's conflict with Mariah who unwittingly recalls both the mother and (by her very appearance, yellow hair and blue eyes), the totalizing values of the "motherland" whose values Lucy must
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The Daffodil Gap: Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy
evade.
Mariah, Lucy's beautiful employer, is kind, warm, generous and well-disposed toward Lucy, whom she treats as her protegee rather than as a servant. She is eager to introduce to the young woman many of the pleasures of her world, such as "an early-evening walk in the spring air" (19), a garden full of daffodils (29), spending the night on a train and waking up to breakfast on the train as it moved through "freshly plowed fields" (33) or visiting the large house on the Great Lakes she grew up in (35). As Lucy acknowledges, Mariah's thoughtfulness towards her is conveyed in countless ways: "If she went to a store to buy herself new things, she thought of me and would bring me something also" (110). "She paid me more money than it had been agreed I would earn" (110). She expresses concern for the girl's health and her well-being by taking Lucy to her own gynecologist and reminding her "to make sure I used the things he had given me" (67). As her name suggests, Mariah's many virtues reflect the qualities attributed to a fairy godmother or an adoptive mother, or better yet, to Simone de Beauvoir's "sainted Mother," "the 'mediatrix' between the individual and the cosmos' as 'the very incarnation of the Good'" (202-206). Her sense of altruism is duly noted by Lucy in the following words: "Mariah was superior to my mother, for my mother would never come to see that perhaps my needs were more important than her wishes" (64).
Consequently, it is difficult for Lucy not to be seduced by (and thereby give in to) Mariah's disarming disposition, warmth, humanity and extraordinary good will towards her. Paradoxically, Lucy cannot help being enraged (but also intrigued) by her employer's profound naivetd, simplistic world view, complacent ethnocentrism, and lastly, (perhaps unforgivably for a young woman in the full throes of rebellion and egotism), Mariah's insistence on placing Lucy's discourse within an intellectual and homogenous cultural paradigma discourse which the protagonist categorically refuses to accept.
The conflict between the two women, a conflict to which I refer to in this paper as "the daffodil gap," is not based on racial antagonism between a white mistress and the black servant whom she intends to subjugate to her will, as in the consistently trenchant portrayals of Euro-American female characters by African-American women writers.1 Uniquely, Jamaica Kincaid's narrative is driven by the protagonist's willful impetus to tear herself away from a deeply personal, all-consuming mother/daughter relationship which is metonymic of the colonial condition as a paradigm of the struggle between the self and the other.
Kincaid's relationship to her mother informs this novel whereby the mother becomes the embodiment of old patriarchal mores, as Rich has explained in her study of Matrophobia. To Lucy, Mariah, in her ethereal beauty and generosity, assumes the guise of a god-send, and thus, Lucy risks being consumed by an all-subsuming consecrated (m)Other, like her own beloved/hated, god-like mother who, hitherto, assumed total authority over her life.
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Indeed, Jamaica Kincaid's female protagonists are awed and emotionally sustained by their mothers. Accordingly, in Lucy, the mother-daughter bond is so tenacious that it withstands anger, hatred, scorn, thousands of miles of distance, separation and emigration. Although Lucy's mother is physically absent from the narrative, she is powerfully evoked. Contours of her mother's life provide the protagonist with a blueprint for her existence. In Lucy, Mariah's physical beauty is evoked in contradictory ways, in particular her skin and hair color:
The yellow light from the sun came in through a window and fell on the pale yellow linoleum tiles of the floor, and on the walls of the kitchen, which were painted yet another shade of pale yellow, and Mariah, with her pale yellow skin and yellow hair, stood still in this almost celestial light, and she looked blessed, no blemish or mark of any kind on her cheek or anywhere else... (27) [S]he looked at me, and her blue eyes (which I would have found beautiful even if I hadn't read millions of books in which blue eyes were always accompanied by the word "beautiful") grew dim as she slowly closed the lids over them.... (39)
Lucy's quasi-erotic gaze may on the surface be related to a Freudian relationship of transference, where her employer is used as a canvas onto which she projects her complicated feelings of love and hostility for her, as these words would attest: "the times I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother" (58). However, a careful examination of this passage alerts the reader to a range of unsettling, even multiple meanings in Lucy's choice of words when describing Mariah, meanings which are based in historical and material grounding. In other words, Lucy's language is articulated within a vision of colonial domination (i.e. the recognition of Mariah's "blue eyes" and "yellow hair and skin" as tropes).
In addition to the colonial signifiers attached to Mariah in the text, Lucy's consciousness is linked to an intricate Caribbean cultural world view with its singular dynamics of mother-daughter relationships, family structures, gender, education and religious syncretism. It is this complex admixture of psychosocial messages, cultural identification and colonial resistance which I also take into consideration when scrutinizing Lucy's complicated relationship with Mariah.
As her reactions to Mariah's appreciation of the weather and to her love of daffodils will demonstrate, Lucy interprets Mariah's benevolent attentions towards her as an insidious form of conquest, an approach not as direct and ruthless as British colonialism perhaps, but armed with the wiles of a jablesse,2 the Caribbean equivalent of a Circean menace bent on seducing her into a perilous world where she risks abdicating her own existence. Such a view is illustrated to the reader when Lucy recounts that as a child she wished:
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If only we had been ruled by the French: they were prettier, much happier in appearance, so much more the kind of people I would have enjoyed being around. I once had a pen pal on a neighboring island, a French island, and even though I could see her island from mine, when we sent correspondence to each other it had to go to the ruler country, thousands of miles away, before reaching its destination. The stamps on her letter were always canceled with the French words for liberty, equality, and fraternity; on mine there were no such words, only the image of a stony-face, sour-mouth woman. (136)
Lucy acquires many years later the political insight that she and her pen pal shared similar political realities (if not sociocultural) except that the dependence of the French neighboring island was presented under a different guise: "I understand the situation better now; I understand that, in spite of those words, my pen pal and I were in the same boat...." (136).
In effect, such a different system of colonization is invoked by Francoise Lionnet who discusses regarding Myriam Warner-Vieyra's novel, As the Sorcerer Said, the ambiguous political status of the "French" Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique vis-a-vis France:
... a colony means that you're colonized, that's the same as being dominated, controlled, domesticated. Brings to mind whips and kicks up the arse, forced labor, and that's only where the present time are concerned! If we talked about the past, it would take us too far back and we'd have to remember our ancestors, the period of slavery, and everything that entails. No I prefer being "departmentalized," won over, it sounds nicer. It reminds me of Saint-Exupery's Little Prince with the fox who wanted to be tamed. (92)
Lionnet thus concludes:
It is interesting to note that dependence is presented here under the guise of taming: that is, as a relation of seduction, since being tamed amounts to being taken in, being lured in by one who holds a certain power but who strives to maintain the appearance of a democratic and egalitarian relationship. (92)
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Lionnet's insight helps this reader to understand Lucy's complicated often seemingly extreme attitude toward her employer. Lucy keeps Mariah at arm's length in the same manner she keeps away from the mother since she associates love with suffocation, "the millstone around your life's neck" (8). She fears that if she relaxes her guard, she will be subsumed by the power of Mariah's love and thus lose herself. In a similar way, Lucy guards herself from opening her mother's letters from Antigua for "I knew that if I read one, I would die from longing for her" (91). Above all, Lucy is terrified of being (assimilated) transformed into just an "echo" of someone (36). Indeed, she measures herself against this object of attraction.
It starts innocently enough with Mariah's reaction to the weather, specifically the heralding of spring. Mariah says enthusiastically to Lucy:
Have you ever seen daffodils pushing their way up out of the ground? And when they're in bloom and all massed together, a breeze comes along and makes them do a curtsy to the lawn stretching out in front of them? Have you even seen that? When I see that, I feel so glad to be alive. And I thought, so Mariah is made to feel alive by some flowers bending in the breeze. How does a person get to be that way? (17)
Moira Ferguson points out in Jamaica Kincaid: Where the Land Meets the Body that Lucy "cannot fathom how a windy day can make one person more agitated than someone facing, say, a daily drought. What causes such priorities? Is it simply that some lives are lived at a trivialized, even perilously self-indulgent level? Could it be guilt or compensation?" (111).
In contrast, Lucy's attitude towards the weather is due in part to the fact that she originates from a drought-stricken tropical island where the months went by in a seemingly mechanical manner which did not seem to be "influenced by the tilt of the earth at all," a condition which the protagonist implies is imitative of the miserable, static condition of the people's lives (86). In an interview in "Talk of the Town" in the New Yorker, Kincaid states: "I had never, in all the time I lived there [in Antigua] heard anyone say, 'What a beautiful morning'" (37). Xuela echoes similar sentiments in the Autobiography of My Mother: the natives of Dominica "wanted to say, something not about the weather (that was by now beyond comment), but about their lives, their disappointments most likely, for joy is so short-lived there isn't enough time to dwell on its occurrence" (166).
Lucy's reactions demonstrate that the people's lives in her society are marked primarily by hardship or that they are so shackled by the harsh conditions of their lives that they are unable to accept the luxury to indulge in the weather. Her attitude towards the weather mirrors the peasant mentality of the agricultural Antiguan setting in which she grew up. In brief, to Lucy, Mariah's leisured, fanciful preoccupation
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with the vagaries of the weather seems trivial and, in Moira Ferguson's words, "perilously self-indulgent" (111).
Nowhere in the narrative is the acute historical and cultural gap between the two women more accentuated than during the episode in which Mariah (fully aware of the young woman's aversion to daffodils) takes Lucy blindfolded to a garden to admire a field of daffodils in bloom. The protagonist is painfully reminded that as a child she was taught to memorize (and recite) Wordsworth's poem "Of the Daffodils," which epitomizes for her a colonial past she abhors. Mariah's "motherly" insistence that, in spite of the poem, Lucy would share her aesthetic delight in the beauty of the daffodils reveals the employer's profound historical naivete. Ferguson contends, "Mariah cannot comprehend that Lucy's experience of the world induces an oppositional understanding and sites her in a different place" (115). In effect, just as Mariah's class background and position make her assume that aesthetics and politics are separated, in a similar way she had been taught that literature was separate from politics; not so for Lucy. As a young woman whose existence has been defined by British colonization, she knows otherwise. Mariah means well, but in the end, she is incapable of grasping the complicated dynamics of a stultifying colonial education which has forced a young girl to hold in awe a bunch of insignificant "simple" flowers which she bitterly refers in the text as "some [wretched] flowers I would not see in real life until I was nineteen" (30).
Lucy's violent reaction at her first sight of daffodils might seem disproportionate to Mariah's intentions if we do not place it firmly within the dialectic of colonial discourse and Lucy's personal trajectory. The protagonist's rage is motivated partly out of disappointment. She feels utterly cheated that the "idea" (read: ideal) of those "simple" flowers which her British colonial education has taught her to hold in awe does not live up to the reality of the moment.
Indeed, Lucy is scarred by the politics of "learning by heart," to use Helen Tiffin's word (918).3 She has come to associate the color yellow (i.e., the color of the daffodils and Mariah's pale yellow skin and hair color) as the symbols of oppression. Elaine Savory Fido, in her study pertaining to "The Politics of Colours and the Politics of Writing in Jean Rhys' Fiction," argues that our sense of the meaning of colour is very subjective and/or cultural or religiously defined (3). She further demonstrates that Jean Rhys, as a white Creole, born in Dominica in an oppressive minority made her long to be black and to cross over into a world she perceived as warm and joyous and rich in feeling, i.e. the world of African culture or (colour-wise). And even though Rhys left for England as a young woman and thus her writing was all done in the context of an England she disliked and did not feel she belonged in, she consistently used in her work the strong colours of landscape in the tropics such as red, blue, green, purple, but ever favours yellow (4).
Although an exploration of the significance of the color yellow in Jean Rhys's writing lies outside the scope of this study, we do know that the color yellow in Jamaica Kincaid's work in general, and specifically in Lucy, is attached to powerful
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subjective meanings. Again Ferguson's comments are useful: "[For Lucy,] the color yellow is [linked] with painful memories of her mother that interact with pernicious colonial signs. Yellow is the jaundiced marker of white cultural identity" (112).
In other words, the color yellow also reminds Lucy of the totalizing values, history and structures of the homeland from which she seeks to purge herself in order to become individuated and free (Rich 236). At the beginning of the novel, Lucy tells us that she dreams of being chased by Lewis, Mariah's husband, on a road so yellow it looked as if it were paved with cornmeal (i.e. the road to conformity or, worse, colonial assimilation) (14). The color yellow also suggest drabness, domination, corruption, decay and artificiality. In Annie John, Ruth, the only white girl in Annie's class, is described to us as "a dunce and came from England and had yellow hair" (73). In the Autobiography of My Mother, Xuela associates her father's skin (of jaundiced yellow) with the color of domination, "the color of corruption: gold, copper, ore" and describes her husband's skin as the color of decay, of "a bad-luck cockroach in its pupa stage" (186, 146). Finally, in Lucy, Mariah is one of the "six yellow-haired heads of various sizes that were bunched as if they were a bouquet of flowers tied together by an unseen string" (a bouquet of daffodils?) (12). In her revealing essay "Biography of a Dress," Jamaica Kincaid offers disturbing evidence linking the color yellow with painful memories of her childhood and mother as well as with pernicious colonial signs (Ferguson 112):
My mother was always eager for me to eat in one form (a porridge) or another (as fongie, the starchy part of my midday meal) because it was cheap and therefore easily available .. and because she was taught that foods bearing the colors yellow, green or orange were particularly rich in vitamins and so boiled cornmeal would be particularly good for me.... Whenever I saw this bowl of trembling yellow substance before me I would grow still and silent. . (93-94)
She was also forced to wear
a yellow poplin dress as the same shade of yellow as boiled cornmeal that her mother had sewn together the various parts with species of birds she had never seen (swan) and species of flowers she had never seen (tulip) and species of animals she had never seen (bear) in real life, only in a picture in a book. My mother made this dress from the picture of such a girl at two years olda girl whose skin was the color of cream in the process of spoiling, whose hair was the texture of silk and the color of flax, a girl whose eyes gleamed like blue jewels in a crown, perhaps created a desire in my mother to try and
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