Volume 5 2002
The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars
ACWWS Founded in 1995, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Publications Editor: JACQUELINE BRICE-FINCH
Guest Editors: RENtE H. SHEA and JANET JONES HAMPTON
Managing Editor: JENNIFER L. GLASSCOCK
Creative Works Editor: OPAL PALMER ADISA
Technical Editor: JEREMY CALEB JOHNSON
Contributing and Associate Editors:
MYRIAM J. A. CHANCY
DARYL CUMBER DANCE
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES
BRENDA CHESTER DOHARRIS
PASCALE DE SOUZA
Copyright C2002 by Jacqueline Brice-Finch
All rights reserved.
Submission Criteria for MaComere
MaCombre 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, an international organization
founded in 1995.
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 MaComlre is www.macomere.com, and thee-mail address is
All submissions should include the following:
1. Manuscripts submitted in triplicate. All material should follow the MLA Style Manual.
2. An electronic file diskette of the manuscript in WordPerfect 6.1 (or higher) or Word 6.0 (or
3. A data sheet listing home address, home telephone, and fax numbers, office address, office
telephone and fax numbers, and e-mail address.
4. The contributor's name only on the first page of the manuscript; the identity of the contributor
will be removed before manuscripts are screened by the editors.
5. All material typed and double-spaced throughout including quotations and endnotes. The use
of footnotes and endnotes is discouraged; however, if they are used, type endnote numbers as
superscript and list endnote information in "Notes," following the text and preceding the
works cited page. Do not auto-format endnotes.
6. A brief biographical statement of no more than fifty words.
Send all material to Meredith Gadsby, Assistant Professor, Oberlin College Department of
African American Studies, 10 North Professor Street, Rice Hall Room 214, Oberlin, OH 44074.
Telephone: 440-775-8594. Fax: 440-775-6485. E-mail: email@example.com.
Subscriptions to MaComnre are available. All orders should be directed to the ACWWS
Treasurer, Evelyn Hawthorne, Department of English, Locke Hall, Howard University, 2400-6th
St., N.W., Washington, DC 20059. Telephone: 202-364-1166.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Make checks payable to MaComire. The current prices are
$30 for one-year institution subscriptions, $100 for four-year institution subscriptions, and $20
for individual subscriptions. Members of ACWWS receive a single issue of MaCom6re with
their yearly membership.
To join ACWWS for the current year, send $100, payable to ACWWS, to Evelyn Hawthorne,
Treasurer, at the above address. Student memberships are also available.
Cover logo by Marcia L. Spidell
Table of Contents
Vol. 5 2002
Helen Pyne Timothy
About Our Name ............................. ix
Renee H. Shea and Janet Jones Hampton
Forward .................................... x
Tributes and Conversations
Opal Palmer Adisa
She Be the Spit and the Flame:
A Tribute to June Jordan ...................... 1
Myriam J. A. Chancy
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza P6rez
in Dialogue ................................. 6
Ren6e H. Shea
From Jamaica to Maryland's Eastern Shore:
The "Enjoyed Work"
of Thelma B. Thompson, President ............... 19
Eve and Lilith ................................. 28
Lilith Speaks ................................. 29
The Smell of Mango ........................ 30
Snakes .................................... 31
from On the River Belize ....................... 32
Lajablesse in Oakland ......................... 48
Paragrabartunombre ......................... 51
To Engrave Your Name on My Mind ............. 51
Papa ...................................... 53
Podriamos Ilamarle Vuelo 202 ................. 61
Translated by Susan Griffin
We Could Call It Flight 202 ..................... 65
Philip Constantine .......................... 71
Lucia M. Suirez
Lavidaes unbaile .......................... 86
Ode to the Maitresse: Going Home:
On Learning How to Glide .................... 95
Water Spirits and Revolutionary Barbies:
A Bitter Love Poem ......................... 96
Mango ................. ................... 98
Michelle Woodard Brown
Cond6's Razy6: Reaching Heroic Heights ......... 101
Community and Continuity: Reading Merle
Collins's The Colour ofForgetting .............. 114
Brenda Chester DoHarris
Reflections on Sexual Politics in the
Lyrics of Male and Female Calypsonians ......... 122
Exoticism and Exogamy in Maryse Cond6's
Windward Heights ......................... 130
Diversity Is Coherence: Mdtissage and criolitd
in Suzanne Dracius's L 'autre qui danse .......... 145
The Landscape of the Other: Aesthetics,
Representation, and the Post-Colonial
Sublime in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea ....... 156
The Mother as Culinary Griotte:
Food and Cultural Memory
in Austin Clarke's Pigtails 'n Breadfruit .......... 184
The Names of Elaine Potter Richardson .......... 204
Writing the "Paradoxes of Belonging":
Elizabeth Nunez and Wide Sargasso Sea. ......... 222
Memory and History in Edwidge Danticat's
thefarming of bones........................ 232
Myth, Spirituality and the Power of the
Erotic in It Begins with Tears ................ 243
Makeda Silvera's The Heart Does Not Bend ....... 253
Swift Stiles Dickison
Marie M.B. Racine's Like the Dew that
Waters the Grass: Words from Haitian Women .... 256
Beverly Bell's Walking on Fire: Haitian
Women's Stories ofSurvival and Resistance ....... 258
Jennifer L. Glasscock
Velma Pollard's The Best Philosophers
I Know Can't Read or Write .................. 262
Nalo Hopkinson's SkinFolk .................. 264
Mayra Montero's The RedofHis Shadow ......... 266
Edwidge Danticat's Behind the Mountains ........ 269
Jeremy Caleb Johnson
Shirley Massey's Countri Labrish ............... 272
Pamela Mordecai's Certifiable ................. 273
Edwidge Danticat's After the Dance:
A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti ........ 274
Donna Hemans's River Woman ................. 276
Recent Publications ................................ 278
Cumulative Index of MaClo re. Volumes 1-5 ...... 280
Notes on Contributors .......................... 294
About the Name
Helen Pyne Timothy
About the Name
The word MaComare 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
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
Moreover, MaComire 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
(macumi, or makumeh, or macoomd, 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
Krdol (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 Kr6ol, the Creole (linguistic term for the
English patois) has incorporated the redundant: "nm_ macomd," "macomn 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.
Ren&e H. Shea and Janet Jones Hampton
As guest editors of MaComere, we are pleased and proud to offer another issue
of exciting creative writing, rigorous scholarship, and interesting reviews of new work.
We open this issue by paying tribute to two of our own, mourning loss and celebrating
progress. Although we lost June Jordan to cancer, her words continue to sustain us, as
Opal Palmer Adisa's essay attests. In an interview, Thelma Thompson, the first
Caribbean-born woman to become a U. S. college president, explains her plans and
reflects on her journey to assume the leadership of the University of Maryland, Eastern
We are especially glad to publish a chapter from Zee Edgell's novel-in-
progress On the River Belize along with poems and stories by other gifted writers. Our
Criticism includes insightful analyses of Edwidge Danticat, Jean Rhys, Merle Collins,
and Elizabeth Nunez along with essays on female calypsonians and on food as cultural
marker and memory. We hope that future issues of MaComrne will feature more
research that broadens the definition of text from the printed word to music, film, and
visual arts. Finally, this issue ends with a cumulative index of the previous five issues,
a resource for both individual readers and libraries.
Each of us would like to say a few personal words.
Rende H. Shea My love for Caribbean literature began in the mid-1970s
when C. L. R. James was my colleague at the University of the District of Columbia.
His novel Minty Alley and autobiographical Beyond the Boundary introduced me to a
new world of literature, culture, and history that continues to intrigue me as a reader and
challenge me as a scholar. As I look at the work being published in MaComare, I think
how thrilled he would be to see the flowering of talent that has emerged from the
Caribbean diaspora-a situation that would not have surprised him, though what might
have is the growing audience that appreciates this work. Surely, he would have tipped
his hallmark broad-brimmed hat in delight as well as tribute. I remember and thank him
for introducing me to the work of his peers and both challenging and encouraging me to
do my own work.
Janet Jones Hampton My interest in, indeed my passion for, Caribbean
literature began some three decades ago with my discovery of a slim volume of poetry,
Where the Island Sleeps like a Wing, by the Cuban writer, Nancy Morej6n. The poems
in that collection, a bilingual one, were inspiring and engaging, transcending both time
and space. Nancy's work piqued my curiosity, leading me from the multi-layered
worlds of other Cuban writers to those of Anglophone, Francophone, and Dutch
Caribbean authors, affording me the opportunity to explore and compare their art and
their world views. MaComare elaborates both the language and image of Caribbean
literature and most importantly, of Caribbean women writers, celebrating their cultural
diversity and creativity.
Esperamos que esta edici6n les ofrezca ambos inspiraci6n y estimulo
intellectual y a6n una pasi6n por la literature de las escritoras del Caribe.
We end with a heartfelt thanks to Jennifer Glasscock, our managing editor, and
Jeremy Johnson, technical editor. These titles do not even begin to describe the
magnitude of work they have done, nor the intelligence and creativity they brought to so
many tasks. And Jacki, Jacqueline Brice-Finch, the founding editor-what can we say?
She has remained involved at every step, offering advice, explanation, humor, wisdom,
and all the vision that brought MaComare from idea to reality six years ago.
She Be the Spit and the Flame: A Tribute to June Jordan
Opal Palmer Adisa
She Be the Spit and the Flame: A Tribute to June Jordan
In 1981, searching to find meaningful essays to use in teaching basic
composition to students at San Francisco State University, I stumbled on Civil Wars,
your collection of essays, June, and for many years it was my bible. I used the essays to
introduce students to the politics and craft of essay writing. I taught the book from
cover to cover numerous times, and other times, I taught only my favorite essay from it,
"White English/Black English: The Politics of Translation" (1972). What I love about
your essays, June, are their frank honesty and clarity of voice: "Language is political.
And Language, its reward, currency, punishment, and/or eradication-is political in its
meaning and its consequence" (72). June, you don't mince or hide behind words. You
say exactly what you mean, letting the spit fly from your mouth.
your tongue was aflame
fire raged on its surface
you curled it and spat out words
orange and blue in heat
you said what we wanted to say
when we couldn't find the words
your spittle doused our enemies
and we welcomed your saliva as baptism
I had been reading your poetry all along. I had been reading your essays, and
in 1984 when you came to check out UC Berkeley before relocating a few years later,
Barbara Christian, your sister-friend in the struggle for women studies and social
justice, introduced us. You signed Civil Wars for me then, and I remember thinking
how slightly built you were and how soft and gentle you spoke in contrast to the heat of
your essays. June, you smiled a lot and smoked and talked fast, and I liked you
instantly as a sister, as we chatted about our Caribbean roots and South Africa and
where the world was heading. You were everywhere at once, June-international,
connecting struggles, some of which I had no information to speak on-so I listened,
intoxicated by the breadth of your knowledge.
The next year, 1985, when On Call appeared, I bought and read it avariciously.
Tears streamed down my face reading "Many Rivers to Cross," and I could hear the
plaintive sounds of Jimmy Cliffs rendition of the song by the same title replaying in
my head, soliciting more tears. And all the scenes and details, June, that you describe
in "Nicaragua: Why I Had to Go There," I knew, and your voice gave sound to my
thoughts before I was able to articulate them. You broke it all the way down for others
and me, June, in the cold-blooded badass essay, "Nobody Mean More to Me than You
and the Future Life of Willie Jordan." I envied your insight, precision, the direct
simplicity with which you write, your words opening my eyes wide to see and know the
full truth and facts of the matter. It was love I was feeling, reading those essays, June.
It was your love for justice, for truth, for sharing. I could feel the blue flames like
candle wicks extend from your fingers, marking the pages without destroying them, and
the phlegm in my throat was coughed up, and I found my own words. Your words fed
me a raging language.
you read with a fevered passion
a combustion of words that exploded
into rhythmic intensity
they had to hear you
hear you- we hear you
galvanizing the community
to demand fairness and just treatment
you detonated apathy
your words incandescence
I moved between your poems and your essays in a dance that was endless,
circular, and encompassing. When I picked up Things that I Do in the Dark, 1967-
1977, I was intrigued by the title and the suggestive pose on the jacket cover, but from
the first poem, "Who Look at Me," dedicated to Christopher, your son, I knew you were
writing with a torch held high, and this wasn't about the Olympics, and it wasn't about
arson. I too had felt what you wrote: "I am stranded in a hungerland / of great
prosperity." I tell you, June, every which way I turn, I feel your spittle like a flashlight
revealing the path on a starless night. So many times as I read one of your essays, I
wanted to ask you who fans your flame to get it to the right heat. Often, after reading
you, my memory is flooded with this image of my paternal grandmother, sitting on a
low stool on the back veranda, with a piece of cardboard fanning the coals. After she
blew on them, the red amber breaking through the black, the coals were ready to roast
sweet-potatoes. That's what "Not a Suicide Poem" is: coals igniting because, as you
aptly state, "no one should feel peculiar living / as they do." We deserve more, at least
in our own lives, free from police brutality, free from racism, sexism, homophobia,
class, and religious dogma. We need to claim our own spaces and chant as you chant,
"I must become / I must become a menace to my enemies."
you mastered walking on fire
your soles hardened by conviction
your body became an impenetrable
island around which we danced
the call for rectitude
and you spat out more poems
sizzling the coals
Fighting your own battle, breast cancer, you did not hide, fold in on yourself.
Instead you garnered statistics: six women die from breast cancer every hour, and you
She Be the Spit and the Flame: A Tribute to June Jordan
Courtesy ofLynda Koolish. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
allowed your fear and anger to surface: "And I am still at a loss about how I should
wage that battle for my life. / Nobody knows. And that totally pisses me off. / I mean,
like, why not? / One in eight women in the USA will be diagnosed with invasive breast
cancer: one in eight! / Every year there are 1830 cases of breast cancer reported, in the
USA, and. ." You sought treatment, weighed recommendations, agreed to a
mastectomy thinking the odds were in your favor only to be told you have a forty
percent chance. And when you wrote and spoke, "And I felt furious then. And I feel
furious now. / And I felt helpless then. / And I feel helpless now," we understood,
especially those of us who have lost sisters and mothers, aunts and cousins, daughters
and nieces, friends and acquaintances from this deadly killer. You have been fighting
all along. Not just for yourself. You had a right to be tired, and we sent you love, silent
prayers and blessed thanks because you had been our voice, an inferno in the malaise of
cut-backs, affirmative action dismantling, wide-spread violence and general madness.
I am still working at being as brave as you in the face of personal violation.
June, how did you learn to stand naked, vulnerable to attacks and criticism? Who
taught you the language of bravery and how to recognize and shout-out your voice?
You knew statistics were good, but it is the personal stories that allow for
transformation. So you testified. "Both times I was raped I was / by myself. / I was
isolated. / I did not possess a manifesto / or an invisible-but-known-and-building /
community." You protested apartheid and worked at forming communities, knowing
that it was more than strength in numbers, but our very lives, how we live, the joys we
celebrate and the pain we share, that have everything to do with a lived community. It
takes spit to light a flame. It takes love and caring. It takes doing the work and not
hiding behind jargons. You, June, showed us what a working poet activist looks like,
what is capable.
And you have given us so much, titles too numerous to list. Even after flying
off on the blue wind, you let us know, June, that you have not gone anywhere, so we
have Some of Us Did Not Die (2002), and you will never die. You live strong and
tangible in the words, and after all, isn't that the legacy that a poet-activist bequests us?
Where did you find the time, June, in sixty-five years to write so much, to know so
much, to be the fire and the spit to inflame and extinguish? Each work widening the
circle. Always embracing the world in your essays and poems, always global yet
specific, always personal yet communal, connecting more than dots. And in this
triumphant, brave collection of yours, writing on September 25, 2002, "Do You Do
Well to Be Angry?" after the World Trade Center was destroyed in New York, you
share in the national grief and despair, but your pain is tempered with reason.
We have become a wilderness ofjeopardized loved ones, and terrifying
I am an American.
I listen to our leaders calling for "the eradication of evil," and I am wondering,
who among us is without evil?
What nation, what people, what stretch of my own personal history is good
without blemish, without blame, without crimes of inertia, at least?
She Be the Spit and the Flame: A Tribute to June Jordan
Was our firebombing of Dresden a terrorist attack?
Or the bombing of Beirut?
Or the bombing of Baghdad?
Is there anything for which we, as a nation, need to atone? (37)
How in two weeks, June, in just two weeks, could you, with your own personal struggle
for your life, put words on paper and force us to see beyond the rubble and loss? How
did you muster the courage to be our conscience and our foresight in the midst of your
body's disintegration? Yet you remind us at the end of this piece that none of us is
perfect; we are all flawed (you continuing to smoke even after surgery for cancer), but
there are lessons to be learned: "And I hope we will learn, soon enough, that sometimes
there is no difference. / Sometimes I am the terrorist I must disarm. / Sometimes I am
the Penalty, and sometimes I am the Companion of the Fire" (43). I am breathing, June.
Taking deep breaths and looking closely at myself. Judging myself and my actions
before I point a finger because I know often I am both the one who started the fire and
the fire raging out of control. All too often, each of us is both.
Where are you now, June? Are you the bird I hear singing at my bedroom
window? Are you that butterfly that flits in my garden, hovering near the apple tree?
Or are you the soil, or that voice that won't leave me, that voice that summons me to
write even after a long day when tiredness licks at my eyes? Where are you, June? It
doesn't matter where. I believe you are everywhere, in every word, in all the many
words you left us as a legacy, a testimony of your life and your commitment to
humanity. You have passed the baton. Who now will take it and run fast and fierce and
resilient as you? You who have taught and mentored and encouraged? You who made
your life an example, June?
even after fire has extinguished
itself ash remains
a visible reminder of its power
your flame glows June Jordan
your flame helps to light other torches
your flame is a mirror
your flame is your irrepressible spirit
I am so happy that I knew/know you. So happy that I was able to witness your
love for justice, your desire for privacy, your need to give voice to social and political
wrongs, your honesty in the face of exposure, your determination not to be a victim,
your willingness to use your experiences to teach, to encourage, to offer hope, to dispel
the lies. In Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, you chanted what we all need to chant,
living as we do in a world that would make us feel iniquitous, inferior, and forget our
true selves, you remind us: "I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name / My name is my
own my own my own..."
Myriam J. A. Chancy
The Heart ofHome: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
Myriam J. A. Chancy, Haitian by birth and a scholar of Caribbean women's
fiction, talked with Loida Maritza Perez, Dominican by birth and author of
Georavhies of Home (1999) and To Die Dreaming (in progress). This conversation
took place in March 2001, via telephone from Tempe, Arizona to New York City, New
York, completed by fax/phone in April, and is excerptedfrom Chancy's longer work-in-
progress entitled Indigo Dreams: Haiti, the Dominican Rempblic, and Cuba.
Geo9raehies of Home tells the story of an immigrant Dominican family
surviving the entwined legacies ofDominican nationalism (an identity often derived
from Spanish constructions of its colonies and the inhabitants of those colonies to the
detriment of an appreciation for the African heritage intrinsic to all Caribbean
nations), Rafael Trujillo's thirty-year dictatorship, and migrations to the U.S. in search
of a more enriching future. Although the story is recounted through multiple voices, the
pivotal character is Iliana, the youngest ofseven children, whose identity as an
Americanized Dominican opens the door to interrogations of that which buoys
definitions of home spaces whether in the islands or in the U.S.: issues of race, gender,
class, and sexuality. Iliana's relationship to an older sister, Marina, herself
undergoing an unraveling of identity on a psychological level, reveals the degree to
which imposedformulations of identity (imposed through imperialism and colonization)
can destroy the integrity of the self and community. As this interview reveals, Perez is
most interested in raising questions rather than positing facile solutions to the various
fragmentations of identity often experienced by Caribbean peoples, especially for
women, and especially for those residing in exile from their home islands.
Myriam J. A. Chancy: I was thinking, reading you, Edwidge [Danticat], and
[Julia] Alvarez, that it's almost as if Hispaniola in particular suffers from gaps in
memory or gaps in history.
Loida Maritza Perez: Absolutely.
MC: And as I read the books, it seems like each text brings out another aspect of
the history that's been forgotten, and yet it points to more gaps.
MC: And that's one of the things I've been pondering a great deal especially when
faced with liana's coming to an understanding of herself in comparison to Marina
in Geographies ofHom e I was thinking that if Marina is the one who very clearly
exhibits psychosis-I mean she's the one who's literally breaking apart and
breaking down-and Iliana is observing all of this, yet the ways in which she
accepts or struggles to accept her features, what in the text you call "contradictory
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
features," I think, points to the possibility of healing those gaps in a way that
affirms the Africanness but also the various strands of heritage that are present on
both sides of the island. Would you agree with that?
LMP: Yes. I would... because... before I forget about the gaps let me bring up
something. I say that's an obsession of mine because you are absolutely right that there
are gaps in our memory, in our history, particularly in the Dominican Republic. We
want to ascribe slavery as something that happened in Haiti, not something that
happened in the Dominican Republic. We want to say that if Blacks exist in the
Dominican Republic, it's because of the Haitian invasion. It's because of Haitians
coming over, and that is such a denial of history. You know, blatant, but still,
textbooks try to minimize slavery or the history of slavery in the Dominican Republic.
Don't get me wrong; now there's a movement in the Dominican Republic where some
Dominican scholars are coming to terms with race and there are conferences taking
place on this, but it's not a rampant movement. In fact, that denial of history is not only
embedded in slavery, colonialism, but it also has to do with the dictatorship. And I'm
going to give you an example. I was there, last January , not this year, but last
year, and I have to tell you a little story which will put it into context. I was speaking to
an old woman, an elderly woman, she was close to eighty, late seventies. She used to
wash uniforms for the Trujillo dictatorship. And, she was telling me how one of the
sergeants she worked for had a house that was surrounded by an ambling fence.
Ambling fence. Una cerca andante. And, I'm like, "What to do you mean an ambling
fence?" And she says, "Well, you know the fence would get up in the middle of the
night and walk into its neighbor's property." And that was her way of saying that the
sergeant was stealing his neighbor's property, but she could not say that he was
stealing. No, the fence was walking, the fence was ambling because even though
decades have gone by since the end of the dictatorship, she still has that fear. One thing
that dictatorships do is lead to this deep rooted psychosis where life... reality is a
certain thing... you know that all these horrible things are happening, that people are
disappearing, that people are being killed, but officially you cannot speak about any of
those things. Officially, life is ideal: this dictatorship is the best thing that has
happened. You can't speak the truth, ever, because anybody can turn you in. You can't
even voice it within your family because it becomes this thing where walls have ears,
doors are mouths, windows are eyes. And so, life becomes this thing where reality isn't
stated. So, I think it adds to the psychosis and then, on top of that, the whole history
that's been denied, and then, the present, when the present itself is denied.... Even
until this day in the Dominican Republic there is no race problem: there is no such and
such and such... I think that there're so many aspects of the gaps. One can't just say
it's based on this or due to that... it's so deep-rooted.
g p e
~ ~ I
courtesy oj Marion z~ranger. /il rignis reserve.
ed with permission.
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
MC: It is. It is, and I think, obviously, it goes back further than the Trujilo
LMP: That is what I'm saying.
MC: The Trujillo regime was thirty years in duration, is that right? And I was
thinking that the Duvalier regime was about the same length of time....
LMP: That's right.
MC: ... and there are overlaps of course in terms of time periods. I guess, as you
were speaking you were putting words to the thoughts on this topic, which is that
thirty years is the length... well, for some people on both sides of the island, it's
the length of a lifetime. And for many people it's a generation, and that leads to all
those disruptions and lack of understanding. And your story, the story about the
woman talking about the ambling fence made me think of two things: on the one
hand you have people with a sense of clarity about what is going on and that the
euphemism is masking what is occurring so there's a type of forgetfulness that's
occurring, and on the other hand that people are noting exactly what is going on.
LMP: Yes..... It's almost like training ourselves not to see for our own survival.
MC: Yes. Well, one of the things I had also been thinking about was how as a
Haitian-you know, thinking about Haiti, one has to deal with so many different
aspects of what is going wrong in that country-but, one of the things that I
remember thinking about when I started on this work, actually a couple of years
ago, I gave a talk on the massacre itself and I remember at the end of the session a
Dominican scholar asked me why Haitians referred to the massacre as the "cane
field massacre." I told him what I knew, which is that's how our memory of that
moment of 1937 survives, that certain numbers of Haitians were killed in the
canefields and that that is a horrific memory and that's what in some ways dictates
how Haitians relate to Dominicans. But one of the things that he helped me
with-he really honestly didn't know why we called it that-but one of the things
he wanted to talk about was the fact that he had to leave the Dominican Republic
much later under the Trujillo regime because of continued "whitening" campaigns
that did not have the same allure of the 1937 campaign but still were threatening.
He's a dark-skinned Dominican, and he had to flee. It completely ruptured his
family so that those who were not dark continued to live as if they were not in any
way connected to those who were clearly of African descent in their family...
LMP: ... and all of those can co-exist in one's family...
MC: Exactly. So, one of the things that that made me realize is that on the
Haitian side, we don't have a clear sense of what the realities are for people of
darker hues on the Dominican side.
LMP: And, also, about associating it with the cane fields-it wasn't only in the cane
LMP: It was nation-wide.
LMP: I mean in all communities. It just spread like a plague. You know, hearing what
this man tells you... I probably shouldn't be telling this story, but I can't resist because
it was so shocking to me. This was about a month ago. I called my parents because,
like I said, my second novel takes place in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo
dictatorship. I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled, when Edwidge came out with her book
because it's from the Haitian perspective and put a voice to it. But I think it's as
important to give a Dominican voice to it-to explore the convoluted issues that played
into that. Of course, it's so difficult to do. I have to really focus to write this new
novel, talking about the gaps in reality and how memory is is something that's kind of
amorphous. The title is To Die Dreaming. But, so, about a month ago, I decided to call
my parents and ask them to travel back to 1936, a year before the massacre... and I
wanted to ask them because I know that my Dad was nineteen at the time. He was born
in 1919. And my Mom was born in 1925; so, she was about twelve or thirteen,
something like that. I just wanted to know generally if they had any memories, in any
form... not wanting to put words into their mouths or anything. And it was quite
shocking... first I got my Mom on the phone and I ask her, does she remember
anything about the Haitian Massacre... which, of course, it's not recognized as such,
but I said, "you know when Haitians were killed during the Trujillo dictatorship?" And
she says, "Well you know all I remember, because I was quite young, but I do
remember that there was a sergeant that would always come to [my] Mother's house"
... my grandmother's house. Because my grandmother used to rent a little house to
this man and he was in the military and he came to the house a day or two days after the
Massacre and he was sobbing... and he specifically spoke about one family, this
Haitian family... they belonged to his Church, they were Christian and he said it was a
mother with her four children, all very young and she kept telling the children, "Don't
worry, don't worry, have faith. We're going to go to heaven." That's the way she was
putting it, to try to calm them down because she knew they were going to be killed.
You know? And, of course, that story to me is so heartbreaking because, because he
still killed them, you know what I mean? The pathos of it. I found it very interesting
that my mother at least had some memory, some connection. And I have to make
something clear... my Mom looks Indian... she's always confused as being Mexican
or Indian from India etc. and appearance, I think that plays in this because then, here's
my Dad, who's Black. And I ask him [the same question] and he says, "No, I don't
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
remember anything." I'm like, "Dad, Mom just told me she had some memories and
she was twelve or thirteen, you were nineteen." He says, "No, no I don't have any
memories." They're both on the line simultaneously, one upstairs, one downstairs, and
my mom's like, "You're sure you don't remember?" He says, "All I know about
Haitians is that they were killed because they had invaded and they were always coming
in," and I'm like "Dad, it had nothing to do with the Haitian invasion. These were
innocent people, some of whom had been living there for generations and were still
considered Haitian or those that were in the cane fields" and I said it wasn't just in the
cane fields, it happened in every town because he was saying, "Oh I think it was just in
a little part of the DR." And I'm like, "Dad, it wasn't," you know? For me, one of the
other things I was talking about was that it was completely a color thing and he was
saying it had nothing to do with race and my Mom was telling him it did have
something to do with race. He kept distancing himself from Haitians, distancing
himself from Blacks because for him to concede that his country did that is to concede
that he himself...
MC: ... had done something...
LMP: ... well no... that he himself was in possible danger...
LMP: ... he did not want to concede that this had anything to do with race because,
then, where does that leave him? It's something that he's had to completely block out
... and say that it had nothing to do with race but with Haitians and blah, blah, blah...
not wanting to concede that it had anything to do with race.... It was so revealing for
me to hear. There's something about gaps that it's like-s you were talking about one
of the things that you're interested in is second generation or the younger generation
and how do they deal with the things-it's almost like looking through a kaleidoscope
where you get a whole picture, but this picture is made out of these bits and pieces, and
out of all these bits of pieces you have to determine who you are, what you are, what
your place in the world is, who your parents are because they don't even want to give
LMP: My dad always says, "Why do you want to write about the Dominican Republic?
Who cares?" It's this thing about wanting us to be American or to have a better life
than they did. For them that means trying to deny the past, or even when they tell us
stories about the Dominican Republic, telling us lovely stories: Don't talk about the
dictatorship. Talk about what a beautiful country it was, so that we can feel some sort
of pride? It's so difficult to get a sense of who we are because it's embedded in so
many different levels, and it's up to us to try to reconstruct from all those pieces of
MC: Right And I think that's where the difficulty comes in because it seems I
know in my work I have my own versions of what I feel happened or think
MC: ... or try to piece it together. I know that when I ask my own parents
questions... they were both born in the thirties... that their histories change
over time... their memories change as well.
MC: And sometimes they change because of growth, but other times they change
because in fact these are difficult things to deal with, to confront. So sometimes
you get more information, that is, more information that coincides with the facts,
and sometimes you get information that contradicts the facts.
LMP: That's right. That's why I deal with fiction. (Laughter) It's easier for me to
deal with issues head on than if I try to deal with facts because-what facts?
MC: Yes. Well, that's the thing. For me, part of the pleasure of reading
Caribbean fiction is that in some ways, it is fictional, so one can play with but on
the other hand it provides a dimension to the silences...
MC: ... of the history because the histories are in fact stories themselves and
stories written by those who had the power to write them.
LMP: That's right ... Let's talk gender. Let's talk gender!
MC: Yes, that's the issue there. Because, the other thing that struck me is that in
the denouement of the novel, with Marina's assault of Iliana, and all of the issues
of sexuality which become much more pronounced at the end of the novel, I came
away with the feeling that liana's sexual identity was as contradictory as her
features, as her racial features. I don't know if you would agree with that?
LMP: The issues are so complex. The reason I chose to do the assault with two women
is because it would have been too simple trying to illustrate those issues via
male/female. The thing about Iliana is that she is allowed no easy answers, that she is
forced to reevaluate and challenge what most people, regardless of race, class, culture
or sexual orientation, take for granted. Against her will, she is freed from gender and
sexual assumptions and made to realize that people, meaning men and women too, are
capable of the best and worst. Having suffered the unspeakable at the hands of a
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
woman, she cannot assume that it should be ideal to be involved with another woman.
Nor can she take for granted that she will achieve peace and stability within the
construct of marriage for she has seen, vicariously through [her older sister] Rebecca,
the pitfalls of that institution. So, at the novel's end, she exists within possibilities: the
possibility to evolve, to create a self out of the bits and pieces of her life, to define
herself in any way she sees fit, to forge a path outside the neat boxes society readily
MC: From a reader's point of view, I think there's a way to ask what are these
gender stratifications about. Ed's presence is there-he's a gay male-but one is
pushed to question the issues of sexuality as well. Not to necessarily categorize
Iliana but to, in some way, and perhaps this was not your intention, but my sense is
that it provides a sort of opening... how to put this... in a different direction
from the gaps that are trying to be filled? Almost as if as liana, the character, is
advancing towards asking questions, beginning to understand the Dominican
legacy, what it means to be in America and be Dominican as well, that as much as
she questions the racial categorizations and comes to terms with them, that she's
questioning the gender categorizations that, especially in her connection with her
friend Ed, compel some questioning of sexuality as well.
LMP: ... and those issues can't be separated. Think about the Black Movement in the
sixties where as [a] Black [woman] either you're Black or a woman. You know, stand
by the Movement and take a secondary place as a woman because think about your
Black men. It's an insistence that we divide ourselves. If we are Latina, we should be
something, something, something which incorporates gender or, as with the Black
Movement, as Black women were supposed to be something, something, something and
what I'm saying is: throw all those notions out the window. Throw those notions out of
What I was trying to explore, in Iliana's case anyway, was the issue of gender
and how, in Latino culture, there are specific ways in which we should be feminine or
be women. These roles are ascribed traits such as nurturing, caring, submissiveness,
etc. Then there are other traits that are not considered womanly, for example,
independence, defiance, and, for that matter, sexual aggression and hostility.
And here, I want to say that I find it interesting that the question of sexuality is
always exclusively applied to Iliana. I think this is because readers tend to follow
Marina's lead and, like Marina, whose vision is obscured by unchallenged social and
cultural signifiers of gender and sexuality, they too perceive Iliana as masculine and
therefore, as gay. And why not? As Marina points out, Iliana behaves more like her
brothers. She is as self-seeking, volatile, and indifferent as a man. She also prefers
slacks, wears her hair slicked back, and rebels against doing her nails. But if we're
going to go by the obvious characteristics, we must then take into consideration liana's
sensuous thick lips painted a dark berry red, her overtly sexual walk that leads several
of her sisters to deem her whorishh," a term exclusively applied to females, and her
uncut and apparently long hair. This set of traits can be seen as invalidating the first set
or, for that matter, as rendering Iliana utterly feminine, a diva intent on getting her own
way. So which is it? Is Iliana feminine or masculine? Is she gay or straight, or for that
matter, bisexual? I leave it up to the reader to decide, but in the text I point to the
dangers of reaching glib conclusions as does Marina. I also remind readers that they are
judging Iliana through Marina's eyes, Marina who is mad, both in the psychological and
What I'm basically saying is that notions of masculinity and femininity are
artificial and inaccurate. Marina, in her madness, persuades herself that Iliana is a man.
She does so by selectively focusing on several of Iliana's traits. But what is truly ironic
is that readers tend to share Marina's perceptions, taking it for granted that Iliana must
at the very least be gay, meaning that they too subscribe to the false notion that certain
traits or characteristics are reliable indicators not only of an individual's gender, but
also of their sexuality. However, in my opinion, Iliana has lived such a sheltered life
and been raised in such a strictly religious family that she has yet to discover or define
her sexuality. All she has experienced is an amorphous kind of longing for tenderness,
a tenderness strangely devoid of passion.
MC: Right. I'm glad you've elaborated on these issues because my take on Iliana
was, indeed, that she was an amalgamation of different identities whether racial,
cultural, gendered, or sexual-not one or the other.
LMP: The text warns readers against judging Iliana through Marina's eyes, not only
because she is mad, but also because she does not know her sister. The first thing she
does on seeing Iliana is literally slam the door shut in her face. This is because she does
not recognize Iliana as being a person whom she knows. This lack of recognition
renders suspect Marina's perceptions of Iliana. Moreover, it indicates her failure to
recognize Iliana as a sister, one who sprang from the same womb. Such a disregard
gives her leave to violate this sacred bond of sisterhood.
Earlier, I indicated surprise that no one has yet posited the question about
Marina's sexuality. I said this because, were the text read closely, an altogether
different conclusion might be reached... readers have a privileged perspective and,
being privy to the thoughts of [the] characters and the events that occur to each, have
much more information than each of the characters possesses. It is therefore up to the
reader to gauge what reality is, reality being a thing that varies according to the point of
view of each of the characters.
Having said this... Marina has suffered a nervous breakdown. What exactly
caused the breakdown, we do not know. Marina herself doesn't believe she's mad. As
for the members of her family, they are ill equipped to trace the origins of the
breakdown. Marina claims or believes that she was raped. Was this an actual rape or a
figment of her imagination? We are not sure, for Marina is one who externalizes her
emotions, and the rape is not acknowledged or mentioned by anyone else. Whatever
she feels, she attributes to something outside herself. If she is restless and cannot sleep,
it is because evil, in the shape of spiders, has invaded the house. If she attempts to burn
the house down, it is not because she is dissatisfied with her existence or resents her
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
family, but rather because she was attempting to protect her family from harm. If she
attempts suicide, it is not because she wants to end her life, but because God needs her
expertise in helping to run the world. If she feels some sort of attraction to Marina, it is
camouflaged as resentment. If she suspects that something is dangling from between
her own legs, she assumes that it is Iliana who is hiding something and possesses a
penis which cannot be seen.
All of this suggests that Marina is one who does not know herself. Moreover,
unlike her sister, she does not challenge herself or question her own thoughts. As such,
she resists knowing herself. But we, the readers, can get to know her, for she projects
onto her exterior or onto others whatever exists within herself.
MC: Were there any models available to you within the Dominican culture to
address these complicated issues your novel raises, or is it the context of the United
States that has provided you with those models?
LMP: Wow, that's a very big issue. It's so hard to trace what influences a person so
it's a hard thing to say. I don't know, these are issues that I've observed or witnessed or
been a part of; throughout my life. I don't know. There are issues that come up every
day, in all sorts of interaction. And I'll give you an idea of some of the things that
might have influenced me. None of my friends, when I first started relating these
events-they never believe me. They're like, "Maritza, please, how can anyone
confuse you for such and such, look at you." OK, you've seen my photograph: I was in
this tiny little place in Mexico when I was starting to write Geographies. It was this
tiny, tiny, little town. Incidentally, it had a drag strip that was one block long. This was
a coastal town, so tiny. And one time, I'm walking back to my hotel which is not really
a hotel but whatever, and this old, sweet man starts talking to me. We're talking and in
the middle of our conversation, he says, he says: "Eres mujer o hombre?" [Are you a
man or a woman?].
MC: Oh my.
LMP: And I'm like, "Excuse me?" I was so hurt. Because here I was thinking "this
sweet little old man.. ." And he's being absolutely sweet: "No, don't be offended, I
just want to know." And I'm like, "Isn't it obvious?" That has led me to think, well,
based on what do people make these judgments? Then, one time, I was living in New
Orleans; I was working in an office meaning I'm dressed as a secretary, and for lunch I
went across the street to a park. I'm sitting on a bench, and five homeless men, five
Black homeless men, surrounded me and they were having this conversation about me
as if I wasn't even present. It was a conversation between themselves because it's New
Orleans, that has a gay population: "Is this a man who looks like a woman or a woman
who looks like a man?" And I'm sitting there like "this is not happening." One of the
men was like, "Oh, please, you're hurting her feelings, can't you see?" And so many
things. And, specifically, in our culture, at least as a Latina and as a Dominican, if I'm
to be feminine, I need to wear my hair out, you know?
LMP: I should have straightened hair and curled or whatever. By virtue of my pulling
my hair back, it presents a challenge. It's like a desexualizing of myself. My attitude is
"Hey, it's easier this way." But, you know, people make certain judgments based on
appearances so those are some of the issues that come into play for me and that I
explore in fiction so I can't necessarily say that I've had a role model.
MC: Do you think any of those issues would have come up in the Caribbean? Do
you think that that would have been as forceful?
LMP: Well, when I was there even as recently as January, I was in Puerta Plata, on the
beach, and I wanted to get my hair braided. You know how women go on the beach
braiding hair or whatever?
LMP: I have to say that when I was there, I was mostly with my brother's wife. All her
family still lives there. I was with family and friends wherever I went. And because
I'm in their home and I'm their guest and because I'm looking for information, I'm
being gracious and living by her standards. And they're like "no, you're going to look
like a Haitian, Africana, if you braid your hair." As a matter fact they dragged me off to
a beauty parlor and I let them too-because I'm being a guest-to get my hair curled. I
looked so silly, but you see what I mean? It's these very specific ways... and the
thing about wearing heels: "Why are you wearing those clunky old clogs." And I want
to say, "Well, you know, in New York, it's considered stylish." (Laughter) So yes, in
the Caribbean it happened to me too.
MC: One of the things I like about the title of your first novel is that
geographiess" is in the plural, suggesting to me that home is found in many places.
Is that what you intended?
LMP: Yeah and that's the very reason I chose the title because feeling alienated,
somewhat alienated and in exile wherever I am, it was an issue of what is home when
the country you have left behind is no longer home, not only because the country has
changed but you have also changed. What is home when neither the country you have
left behind nor the country you've moved to is home? Is home a psychic space, a
physical space, a spiritual space, or all of those?
MC: It becomes very complicated. I was actually raised partially in Port-au-
Prince and then went to school in Canada and I've been in the U.S. for the last ten
years. So, I find myself in this very strange position of teaching Americans about
America, and I spent the last week in Canada (because they had their Spring
Break), and I found this desire to leave the United States. I don't know if it would
The Heart of Home: Loida Maritza Perez in Dialogue
be different for someone like yourself who is both Dominican and American
because earlier you were jokingly talking about blaming the U.S. for different ills.
And I do that a lot because I think the U.S. ip responsible for a great deal of harm
in many countries... its foreign policy with regard to countries that are African,
in any way...
LMP: You'll get no argument from me. It's terrible.
MC: Yes. In fact, I was reading Randall Robinson's autobiography [Defandbrg
the Spiit: A Black Life Ib America. He's the man who founded TransAfrica.
LMP: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
MC: I think everybody should read that book because It's just amazing. It just
brought back home this idea... well, the idea of home. The United States
provides a space within which to do this work, the resources to do the work
whether scholarly or fictional or other. But I wonder if for you it poses some
contradictions, if you would ever think about returning to the Dominican
Republic, or is that an Impossibility?
LMP: Oh. That's such a hard question to answer. I need to go back to the DR for
more research and possibly for as long as six months. Could I possibly live there? I do
not know. I mean, when I started writing Geographies, I went off to Mexico. I was in
Chiapas, San Cristoban de las Casas, where that revolution took place. I was able to see
the dynamics of what was taking place where I was and feel compassion and anger and
everything, but there was an amount of objectivity that I could have in Mexico. I went
to Mexico rather than the Dominican Republic because there, this is a place that, having
come here when I was three years old, had been idealized for me. I thought, "this will
be the place where I can return to and will be at home and will be accepted and it's a
wonderful place." And it is not that. So, when I return, it's so... painful...
sometimes. You know, to see the politics in play, the culture in play, the racial... all
those things that every culture has that is so complicated but because that was the place
that I had idealized and wanted to claim as home, it makes it so much more painful.
Here, in the United States, I can experience all of that which I would also experience in
the DR meaning in terms of difficult issues, but a part of me can still remain protected
within my own psyche. There is a defense that I do not have in the Dominican
Republic. Do you see what I mean?
MC: I do.
LMP: So, I've also actually considered, where do I want to go? I'm actually thinking
of running away somewhere to Latin America to write the second book because it's
cheaper. I don't think I have found the place that I consider home. Right now, home
for me is something that I carry within myself. Home consists of the bits and pieces of
all the people that I love, all the places that I love. So, it's something that exists within
me and that's portable. So, ideally anyplace can become home if I have home within
myself. I think that's the ultimate goal It might sound wonderful in some ways, but
it's sad in others.
MC: I completely understand.
LMP: You know?
MC: In fact, I think that's the place where I'm at: how does one create that sense
of home within? But, I can certainly say, on a personal note, that your book helps
me to do that.
LMP: Oh, thank you. I think that's the best compliment I've received!
MC: And I'm looking forward to the next one as well. Thank you so much for the
interview and for your time.
LMP: No, thank you.
The "Enjoyed Work" of Thelma B. Thompson, President
Rende I. Shea
From Jamaica to Maryland's Eastern Shore
The "Enjoyed Work" of Thelma B. Thompson, President
When Thelma Barnaby Thompson became the president of the University of
Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), in fall 2002, she made history as the first Caribbean-
born woman president of a U.S. university. Dr. Thompson left her native Jamaica in
the 1960s and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., to earn her B.A., M.A.,
and PhD. in English literature. She has taught and held administrative positions at
Howard the University of the District of Columbia, Lehman College of the City
University ofNew York, and Bowie State University. At Norfolk State, she served as
Dean of the School ofArts and Letters for eight years and as Vice President for
AcademicAffairs forfour. Her plans at UMES, an historically black college, include
turning it into a leading center for preventive health care by focusing on the needs of
rural and minority populations, adding a pharmacy school and developing a golf
RS: What is the great challenge you're facing as a college president, specifically
the president of University of Maryland, Eastern Shore?
TT: I think the greatest challenge is dealing with budgetary cuts and fundraising at a
time when there is a national fiscal shortage. Time management is also a challenge
since everyone needs to meet with me now. The major challenge, however, is dealing
with the status of the institution.
This university is the fastest growing university in the System of Maryland, but growth
is to take place in spurts. My job is not necessarily to grow the university, but to secure
the foundation and make sure it can support the many stories we have added on.
RS: When you were growing up in Jamaica, did you imagine yourself in this
TT: No, never! I did not aspire to become a college president. I simply wanted to be a
good teacher because I had always admired effective teaching. How was I to know that
if one is a good teacher, they make you the supervisor or the head of a department?
RS: So when you were growing up, you had effective teachers?
TT: Extremely effective. The teachers' college and training in Jamaica are far more
extensive than here; the requirements and hours of instruction far exceed what we
require in this country, so the teachers there are masters in terms of classroom
management and imparting information and knowledge. They don't do it for the money
there either, but the expectations are so high because teachers are so well
respected-which is different from here.
RS: Did you always know you would become an English teacher?
TT: No, I came to Howard University expecting to study dentistry, but I had to work
my way through school. As a foreign student, I was not a candidate for loans, although
I did get academic scholarships at Howard. Soon, after I enrolled, I realized that the
sciences also had labs attached to them after the lectures. I needed to work, so I needed
a discipline that had no labs. There was a Jamaican man-Ivan Earle Taylor-who
headed the English Department at Howard, and he helped me, so the natural thing was
to switch over to English. I knew I could handle that, and it was so enjoyable.
The truth is that I met black literature, and it seduced me. I had studied writers in
school in Jamaica, and I had never read a book written by a black person. In the
Caribbean, we didn't study black history or literature. At Howard, I met Claude
McKay, Countee Cullen, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks-and I was in another
world! So, the pull was greater than the push, so to speak.
In 1985, I initiated a scholarship in Dr. Taylor's honor at Howard; he chaired the
department for 27 years.
RS: When did you first start thinking about a move from teaching to
TT: I never ever thought of it. I was teaching my class one day at UDC [University of
the District of Columbia], and Jose Gil, the dean, came by and said, "I hear you are
your own woman," and I said, "You heard right." Then he told me that he was looking
for an associate dean-and he made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. The truth is, I
thought that the English Department was being treated as a stepchild, and I believed that
in the dean's office, I could ensure that the department would be treated more fairly in
terms of travel money, supplies, and so forth.
It's been invitations all the way--as it was for this position. I did not apply for it, but
the search firm came to me and said we have heard about you, but we have heard you
do not wish to be a president. I said they were right, but they asked to put my name in.
I did not seek the position, but I guess that after a while your work speaks for you. I
was chosen from 52 candidates. If I were going after a presidency, I probably would
have done it years ago. I certainly wouldn't have remained in one position as I did at
UDC for 14 years or 12 years at Norfolk.
So it has ended this way. I am very spiritual, and I think God has a plan for us. Even if
you have a plan for your own life, and it doesn't synchronize with God's plan, he will
win anyway, and I think he has.
The "Enjoyed Work" of Thelma B. Thompson, President
Courtesy of University ofMaryland Eastern Shore. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
RS: What was the most difficult part of your decision?
TT: Physically moving from one place to another. One establishes emotional ties and
familiarity. It's easy if you are a young child and wake up in a new city with Mommy
and Daddy, but as an adult, to relocate is traumatic. You don't know the culture, where
the dry cleaners are, which way is north... there's an innocence to moving because
you're basically ignorant of so many things-such as today I was asked to speak at a
church in Pocomoke City, and I didn't know where it was.
I'm only two hours from Norfolk, but the region is different, and it has its own culture,
which I respect. There are some similarities with Jamaica, though, so I fit right in.
RS: Why do you say that this area is similar to Jamaica?
TT: For one, there's the ocean. Atlantic City is right here, the tourism, there's always
somebody visiting. There's a culture that springs up around places where there is
water-seafood, clam bakes and fish fries, sailing, swimming, and all of that.
Another huge similarity is the juxtaposition of poor people and rich people and the fact
that they need each other. Perdue [chicken processing plants] on the Eastern Shore
needs the workers, and the workers need Perdue.
RS: Have you had mentors in administration?
TT: Not at all. The mentoring was largely on the teaching side. For administrative
work, I pretty much fell into it by accident. I never ever had a course in how to be an
administrator until this past August-I went to the New President's Workshop run by
AASCU [American Association of State Colleges and Universities]-an annual event, a
seminar for new presidents. After I had accepted the position, I thought I needed that,
but I had never ever involved myself in such training before. In my life there's been
this epiphany, this surprise, in middle age, and I'm still "following my bliss," as Joseph
Campbell would say.
RS: Don't you miss teaching?
TT: I love discovery, knowledge, and I'm all about youth. I have a deep love for the
humanities, and I respect the scientific disciplines, so it's an amazing discovery that I
can have a position to influence this all for good. That's why I don't miss teaching.
Anyway, it seems as though I am teaching in another way. When I sit before the
legislators in Maryland and explain what I do-I am educating people about the
importance of education on society, on the fact that it might be twenty years before the
true impact will be felt.
RS: Do you like to work with state legislators?
The "Enjoyed Work" of Thelma B. Thompson, President
TT: The approach that I use is to see each of these politicians as a human being. I
think the humanistic approach to life is very real to me, so that is the only way I can
manage what I have to do. When I approach a politician, I know who he is, what his
wife does, whether he has children, what he has studied in school. I approach the
person, not the politician, so it works for me. Then they see my humanity, my human
need at UMES.
If you understand the person, you can always approach from his or her perspective, and
being the teacher I am, I understand how that works. Of course, I am learning some
new skills. It's true that you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Actually, I've become rather fond of these people-and not by party lines, but more
because of what they stand for and what I see as their courage and integrity. Many are
people who fight for what they believe in, and I respect that.
RS: But aren't there times when you really do miss the classroom?
TT: I miss the students and the camaraderie with my fellow faculty. Administrative
work can be lonely. It's hard to be good friends, buddy buddy, with the persons you
supervise; you can be respectful, but the relationship changes.
I miss the students in terms of having my own that I get to know well. I mingle with
students a lot but not with the regularity of teaching a class. However, when I do get
my home on campus, I plan to play a large role in their development and exposure.
I intend to use the Socrates Caf6 model. I intend to have a type of a book club if I can
get the money to buy books for everyone. I intend to drop in to dormitories to visit in
the evenings. Right now, I live away from campus in Salisbury, so I drive home about
twenty minutes, but when home is campus, I could take my dinner with students and
just be more a part of heir lives and get to know them better.
Basically, I like being with people. I'm not shy and retiring. I'm somewhat reflective,
but I truly enjoy being around people-probably because I think I can learn from just
RS: What advice do you have for younger colleagues who might be thinking about
an academic career outside of the classroom?
TT: I would encourage them. If I had to relive everything, I would have started on this
road earlier. There was a time when I thought professorship and administrative work
were not compatible, and I fought going into administration because I thought they
moved in such different directions. But I am conceited enough to think that the
professorial types make excellent administrators. We have come through the ranks, and
we realize that the search for knowledge, for wisdom, can only make administration
better. I don't have to have every single person agreeing with me. I think discourse is
healthy. They tell me that I am thinking outside the box--as though I am unusual-but
I think that is healthy-and something I've learned from teaching. I have added
students and faculty to my administrative team. These are people who are most affected
by our decisions, so I can't see an executive council without such people.
For my university to function well, I need input from all the stakeholders-I don't
really like that word-and students are the center of everything. I just think that the
"academic approach" is not a bad approach at all.
Let me give you another example. This university was voted for the second year in a
row the second most beautiful campus in America-we have over 700 acres-so I am
thinking about what we can do to use that property. I've come up with an idea that
seems to have promise-a golf academy. Others have asked, "Why didn't anyone think
of this sooner?" I don't want to take credit for being such a fresh thinker, but I
sometimes see things from a different perspective-creating something where nothing
existed. I like gardening, I think, on the same theory. You're recreating... it's not that
you invented the rose bushes or the tree you've planted, but you positioned something
for the rest of the world to enjoy.
And salary is another reason I would encourage others. I never imagined I could earn
what I do now. We [academicians] don't place a monetary value on the knowledge that
we have, and that is wrong.
RS: Your view seems to go against the grain of the more common belief that the
faculty perspective is too academic-and thus not action-oriented, not
realistic-while the administrative perspective is more management-oriented,
more practical and focused on results.
TT: Yes, that's a common view-but I disagree. There's a theory called "triple bottom
line." I read about it after Enron when people were criticizing what happened there
because they didn't have the triple bottom line. They had only one-which was money.
The other two are the environment and people. So the triple bottom line means
including the human factor as well as the larger environment. I buy into that so much.
For example, I am ordering thank you cards for people who do nice things, welcome
cards for those who visit. There are those who think I'm wasting money, but it is such a
hurting thing to labor day after day, and all you hear is a statistical point. I know what
it is to be under-appreciated personally and professionally.
The greatest need a human has is not to be loved but to be appreciated. So I don't see it
as a waste of money to buy sympathy or congratulations cards that pay attention to the
people who do the work. The human spirit needs to be encouraged! I think that's
The "Enjoyed Work" of Thelma B. Thompson, President
Management by objectives, accountability we layer those things on the academic life.
We have mounds of paper. But I am beyond reports. I am into action. I think
sometimes in academia, analysis brings paralysis. You analyze everything to the finest
point, and then you are overwhelmed as to what to do. I'm a bit different. I try to put
all the ideas together and focus on improvement. I attempt to find money rather than
focus on the fact that there is none. I credit that to my upbringing. I grew up in a
country without a welfare system. You baked bread if you needed it; if you needed a
dress, you sewed one. I never forget that the academic life-the teaching-is the
central pole holding up the tent. If that is not firm and strong, then all the rest will start
to weaken until the whole tent folds. I never lose track of that.
RS: You've continued to write up until now, even as you've had other
administrative jobs. How do you manage? I'm particularly impressed that you
have kept poetry writing as a part of your life. Don't you have a poem about
W.E.B. DuBois coming out?
TT: Yes, the book that includes my poetry is coming out as we speak from University
of Missouri Press: a 100 year retrospective glance at DuBois's Souls ofBlack Folk. I
wrote this poem about DuBois sometime ago, a friend submitted it without my
knowing, and it was selected as a lead piece for that book. It's a collection of essays
edited by Dolan Hubbard, chair of English Department at Morgan State University.
I don't sleep that much. I tend to wake up early. Writing has always relaxed me or
taken me away from the mundane. I travel a lot, so sometimes I have waiting time at an
airport or long nights at the hotel. I write pretty much whenever I can.
I like to know things and learn things... and I still read. My curiosity remains active,
and my mind remains active, thank God. So I may write about bizarre facts I encounter
or sometimes just to make people laugh. When I spoke at a hospital recently, I read a
poem I had written that I thought would be amusing to them. It was an attempt to break
the Black/White paradigm, so I wrote about us all being "Red" on the inside and called
the poem "Red."
RS: How will you stay in the academic conversation now that you have-arguably
-the most demanding of jobs?
TT: Well, for one, I am attending conferences. I'll never give up my discipline. I have
pledged never to do that no matter how much administrative work I have to do. I have
such a deep love and respect for my discipline, and most of my friends are from there,
so they keep me grounded. When you live on the Eastern Shore, you have to read and
stay connected to the national agenda.
I have been catapulted into a leadership role beyond my expectations. When I first
came here, a lawyer called and said, "Do you know what you have become? You have
just become the number one citizen in Somerset County." I asked how that could be,
and he pointed out that the university is the largest employer in the poorest county in
the state. So, the university is the long-stemmed rose here, and I have a responsibility
to know the national agenda. I have to keep the conversations going. I may not have
all the answers, but I have to ask the questions. Yesterday, I was working on a task
force looking at tuition and fees-the meeting started at 1:00 on a Saturday and ended
at 4:00. That's a nice chunk of time out of my weekend. I went today to church service
at 10:30 and got back home after 4:00. Part of the expectation is that I give directly to
the community. So I am a public scholar, whether I like it or not.
I am looking at the whole experience as a gift. So many of my age are looking to retire,
yet for me everything has been stepped up. I attribute some of it to my sister, who gave
me a book called The Prayer ofJabez [I Chronicles 4:1]. It's a very simple book, only
a few pages. It goes into the Bible and takes out this remote character Jabez who
prayed a prayer saying, "Oh, that you would bless me indeed, / and enlarge my
territory, / that Your hand would be with me, / and that You would keep me from evil, /
that I may not cause pain." The amazing thing-it's mythical again-is that I read the
book, prayed the prayer, and it did happen to me!
RS: Most of your family is here in the U.S., so do you return to Jamaica often?
TT: Every year I find some time to go home to Jamaica. My parents came here years
and years ago, my father to work at the World Bank and mother with the Catholic
Conference. My siblings are here. I've lived here since 1966, but I love Jamaica. I still
do some charitable work on the island, and my conscience sets me free.
I just signed a memorandum of understanding with a school in Jamaica, and I'm on the
demand list-I cannot say that Jamaica did not honor me. They treated me regally. I
spent an hour with the Governor General in November , and that was what any
citizen would pray for. The entire island was so vocal in their appreciation, and I felt
very very loved. I used to fly into Jamaica and find a quiet place by the ocean or on top
of a mountain, but I doubt that will be possible any more.
RS: Does UMES have courses in Caribbean literature and history? If not, will
you encourage their development?
TT: We don't have Caribbean studies, but we have many Caribbean students. We have
a hotel and restaurant management program among the best in the nation, and a high
percentage in that program are Caribbean students. Our university is a land-grant
institution formed by Congress to teach mechanical and agricultural arts, and many
Caribbean students are in the agricultural programs. We have students from 53
countries, and Jamaica is well represented.
The "Enjoyed Work" of Thelma B. Thompson, President
So, although there are no Caribbean studies programs, this new president has elevated
International Studies to an associate vice presidency. It means that international
information will be embedded across the curriculum as well as continuing with trips
abroad. We keep saying the world is smaller and we need to understand "the other,"
and students need to have an international perspective. One of my students might well
graduate and get a job at Alliance 1 in Japan, a job in China, GM in Europe. We need
to know more about other cultures, respect them, and see ourselves in relation to the
RS: Here's the bottom line, Thelma-are you having a good time?
TT: I am having the time of my life! Let me tell you... I came here alone: no
husband, no children, even my cat died before I came, and people here have opened
their hearts and homes. I received 41 bouquets the first day I was in office. I have had
more dinner parties, picnics in the parks. I love these people, and I believe that this is
God's way of rewarding me for the hard, difficult work I have given to my career. One
could never ask for a better climax to one's career.
The main reason I am having a good time is that I think I can make a difference. Let
me give you a concrete example. I think teachers are not given enough respect. I got a
grant in the summer, and I am using the money for my pre-service teachers. I am
starting a Saturday academy for younger students and senior citizens for computer
If I leave a legacy, it is to be this-that people who work at the university must love
their work, and competition is not necessary-you can work together, the community is
welcome here, and we are welcome in the community. I think that the element of
enjoyed work has to be brought back to the teaching profession at all levels.
Last Saturday night despite the sleet and snow, 250 of the alumni, who have been so
welcoming, came to a dance here, and we had a great time. We simply have to make
education the number one goal of what we do, but there is no law that says we can't
have a good time doing it.
This interview was conducted via the telephone and email during February and March
Eve and Lilith
No, I do not blame you for it,
And what you say is true: you did not create this world.
You were only bom of it, as Eve was born of it,
As was Lilith before her, the demon figure.
You did not will for yourself a pale skin,
And I my dark skin; and neither
Of us is responsible for what others
Choose to make of this. Our responsibilities are to ourselves,
And to the daily lives we lead-
There is still so much work to be done.
I know that sometimes you wish you had been the dark woman,
The one who, you say, got away.
I ask you again, could you live forever in this body?
Offering the same pendulous breasts
Over and over again to the world, only now
They are greatly shrunken and withered and have nothing more to give.
You are right about this:
We are both looking for Mothering. I confess,
I have always wanted to return to the folds of the earth.
But today on the telephone, I heard your despair:
That you wish to be seen in your own right, that you are tired
Of being an object, a trophy, a bright and cheerful parrot
in someone's gilded cage.
Wasn't this always the argument between the women of my family
And the women of yours?
Never mind, you will fly.
Poetry by Jacqueline Bishop
You will fly! Your wings
Have not, despite what they tell you, been clipped.
There is still much of your Irish grandmother in you.
The one hidden away in the attic,
visible only from the high window,
Who motioned me over with gnarled fingers.
When I refused to go to her, she started pacing again.
What was I to have done?
I had been told we were so different
Now I think of Eve's decision to listen to the snake,
To eat of the tree of knowledge;
Her bravery in approaching the unknown.
I am she who you do not know.
I am she of the dark face,
The first wife, the example,
The one whispered about in tattered
And un-translated texts,
So carefully hidden in the stacks
That even the head librarian, the one
Who knows everything, she who first arrived
with peachy good looks,
who is now a withered prune,
Adam and I, we were both so young then--
Trembling in the garden.
Why did he listen to The Father-
Insisting that I lay beneath him?
I took it and took it, until finally, after years,
I got up out of myself,
Flew away to the Red Sea.
The book you hold in your hand is old,
The pages are crumbling.
The woman they say is me, the succubus,
The woman of filth,
Is a face distorted and turned upon itself.
Won't you take this frail hand,
These tired bones,
Lead it out of this maze, these lonely stacks.
The Smell of Mango
I am seven years old, spread
before my grandfather's widening eyes,
him filing his fingernails asking me
if they are short enough.
We are in Mother's bedroom.
Outside it is warm.
An oakwood bed in the center of the room
is made up with pink and white ruffles.
At the window,
a shy blue curtain is blowing;
through wide glass window panes
yellow sun floods the room.
Let me tell you about the smell of mango,
I can even tell you about the silence
within the room
as my grandfather's finger snakes inside
and out of me.
He raises himself up,
pulls the zipper of his pants.
I am so afraid.
Let me tell you about
Poetry by Jacqueline Bishop
the darknesses which descend over me.
All those years when my mother knew exactly what my grandfather
was doing to me. She knew, and she let it continue.
Her excuse: It happened to me too.
Those nights when he asked for my company,
After my grandmother had left him, had packed her things
And moved out. He complained of being lonely,
Said he wanted a girl
To help about the house.
I begged her not to send me, peed on myself, hollered,
Rolled in the dirt, told her how he spooned
Himself against me at night, his hot breath quickening
Around my neck. How frightened
I was of his darkened contorted face. Then the touch
Of those rough, callused hands, reaching for
My breasts-te shame of them-
The revulsion of them-I wished they would stay buried
Within my body. Then the sudden sharp pain
Of those large knobbed fingers between my legs. It was then
That I learnt to hate myself to feel different, to know that something was wrong
With me. She taught me to take it, to forgive my grandfather
And take it. She taught me that this was what it meant
To be a woman. I did not know how to name
What my mother and my grandfather had done to me,
Until that day at the zoo when I saw them, a family,
Curled around each other, the venomous tongues that darted
And flickered, the evil intent in their glowing red eyes.
from On the River Belize
When she was about fifteen years old, Leah Lawson sat with her friend Will
McGilvrey on the ground at the back of a thatched hut in the shade of a grove of mango
and cashew trees. Their eyes were fixed on the family of deaf-mutes who had emerged
without warning, as they usually did, from the thick bush and the nearly impenetrable
forests which surrounded the clearing.
"I feel a bit strange when I see them nowadays, especially the man with the
limp," Leah said. She held the wooden bucket against her chest, feeling the coolness of
the wet staves through the worn fabric of her gray linen smock.
For most of the morning, Leah had been filling, with well-water, the six barrels
ranged along an outside wall of the hut, which served as the cookhouse. But, as Leah
had told Will earlier, she was waiting to complete her task until the father, mother, and
two sons had traversed a path that led past the well, the wash-tubs, and makeshift sheds
to a wider track through the bush to the river. Most of the smaller huts were empty
now, and for a second year they had not been repaired and made ready for a new
"Why?" Will asked, getting up and walking across the clearing. He was still
sweating from his long trek from the river to the camp. He selected a calabash from a
peg in a post of the hut and dipped it into a barrel, scooping out water and splashing it
over his face, shoulders, and arms. In the pause, they heard coconut oil spluttering in a
pan on the firehearth.
Leah shrugged but did not reply. Her gaze lingered for a moment on the
younger of the two sons who walked more slowly than the others, as though the sole of
his left foot was injured. Like the rest of his family, he had shiny yellow hair, except
that his had recently been cropped close to his skull. "Perhaps he's had lice," Leah
thought, for when she'd last seen him, his hair had been shoulder-length. His pale blue
eyes were watchful as though he was fearful of a surprise attack. "As well he might,"
Leah said to herself, putting a hand to her tightening throat. She swallowed, but her
mouth was dry. "I'm frightened, too," she thought, "of mostly everyone and
everything, since Beth died." Leah tried not to think of her older sister who had, in the
end, chosen death over life.
Will wiped his face, neck, and arms on a piece of cotton, faded and threadbare.
He gave Leah a shrewd, sidelong glance before folding the damp cloth carefully and
sticking it into his waistband. "Dey kean't hurt you. Dey don't own much, 'cept their
"Maybe not," Leah said, thinking of the well situated in the middle of high
grass, bushes, and overhanging branches. Will knew a lot about scouting for fresh
stands of mahogany, but she wasn't sure he knew all that much about her life in the
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
camp. He worked at a McGilvrey mahogany bank some distance away near Roaring
"You're too 'fraida, dat's your trouble," Will said. "Good thing I'm 'round to
look out for you." He glanced at her again, smiling. "Anyway, most likely dey won't
be back here."
"How do you know?" Leah asked, listening to the susurration of the dried
leaves, red, gold, and brown, that covered the path. The deaf-mutes were carrying
bundles of food and clothing, a few cooking utensils, muskets, machetes, axes-the
usual things people carried when traveling for any distance through the bush.
Will shrugged, resuming his scrutiny of the family as they neared a bend in the
path near the huts. "More fighting. Soldiers on the way, people say." He spat a stream
of tobacco juice to a spot a yard or so from where the sat.
"Disgusting," Leah said, but Will only laughed. He'd started chewing
tobacco regularly ever since the day a few months before when he'd been sent into the
bush as an assistant to a few men who were skilled in locating mahogany trees which,
so the merchants said, were beginning to be profitable overseas.
"Stops me thinking' about food," Will said. "No cooking fires in the bush at
any time now." He sniffed the air. Her mother Hannah was frying, on the indoor
firehearth, slices of huge river fish which Will and his friend Sharper caught on their
way to the Lawson's Camp. He would have a day's meal in his canvas bag when he
went away again later that day. Leah liked Sharper, a short, stocky man with bright
brown eyes and a deep voice. Will would have a day's meal to share with Sharper in
his canvas bag when he went away again not too much later in the day.
In a few weeks, when the fighting would surely be over one way or another,
Will would probably go back to helping Dover, the chief mahogany huntsman at
McGilvrey Bank, to cut through the most inaccessible parts of the forest to the highest
spot of ground they could find. Then Will would climb the very tallest tree he could
see. Or, sometimes he'd stand on one of the very high mounds scattered throughout the
forest, in which, so Will said he'd heard, the Maya Indians used to bury their dead a
long time ago. From the top of the tree, or from one of these mounds, he could see the
forest spreading out before him like a grass-green sea for miles in every direction.
In August and September, the leaves of the mahogany tree turned a yellowish
or reddish hue. If Will was lucky to see a spot in the bush where the mahogany trees
seemed plentiful, he would descend and lead Dover, and the other men, without a
compass or other guide, to the area where the trees were located. Each tree was
carefully marked, and the bush cleared, creating trails that led from one tree to the next.
Dover, though, was growing old, and soon he would be forced to relinquish his position
as the head huntsman; his damaged knees made walking and climbing a difficult and
painful job. Although Will had never said so, Leah knew that Will wanted Dover's
job, which was a very prestigious one in the settlement. A huntsman was worth many
hundreds of British pounds, or so she had heard. Huntsmen were treated fairly well, for
the owner of a good mahogany huntsman would not want him to reveal where new
stands of mahogany had been seen and secretly lead a more generous paymaster to the
She glanced at Will, whose gaze still lingered on the youngest deaf-mute. Like
his father and brother, he wore a dark shirt, braces, and loose, black trousers that were
patched in several places. Will fiddled with the waistband of his short trousers, held up
by a rope made from the ti-tie vine. He said, "You're too coward for your own good,
Leah. Good thing you have me as a lookout, eh?"
She frowned, thick eyebrows knotting together above her eyes, which were a
bright honey-yellow in color. "But you're not always here," Leah said, realizing that
her increasing fearfulness had somehow to be overcome, or at least disguised until she
felt stronger, but she had no clear idea how this might be done.
He smiled, then sucked his teeth, as though dismissing her fears, but Leah saw
the strain on his tired face and the anxious look in his eyes. She looked behind her to
the doorway of the hut in which she slept with her mother and Samuel, her younger
brother. The walls of the hut were made of pimento poles and thatched with dried
cohune palm. Inside the hut were Will's musket, machete, and axe. She thought about
the terrifying nightly events and wondered about Will's part in them. He was quite a
few years older than she was. They had sometimes tried, by various calculations, to
guess by how much, but they remained uncertain about the number of years between
their ages. Will said he had arrived in the settlement when he was about Leah's present
age, which would make him about thirty or thirty two years. Will seldom talked about
his home area in Africa, but Leah knew it was often on his mind.
She tried to imagine a much younger Will slipping barefooted along the green
aisles of the bush in this new country. He would have been on the constant lookout for
snakes, pumas, ocelots, or anything else that could harm him if he relaxed his vigilance.
In her mind she saw him paddling a dorey along the rivers, creeks, and lagoons, or
submerging himself in the river with only his eyes and nose above the waterline.
"I'm only afraid sometimes at night, Will," she said. There were so many
strange, often frightening things happening in other camps up and down the river that
Leah and her family didn't go there to bathe anymore. She'd once seen a Tommy Goff
wriggling beside her in the river and had dashed out of the water, squelching up the
muddy riverside to slightly higher ground. Since then, Leah had bathed only near the
edges of the river, keeping a sharp lookout all the while for river snakes. Thick bushes
and enormous trees threw grotesque shadows on the water there. Once she'd mistaken
a stump of wood, projecting above the surface of the river, for an alligator, which was
really a crocodile, or so she'd heart people say. Sometimes it was hard for Leah to
know what to believe. She gave a slight shudder. Tommy Goffs, crocodiles, and
alligators were the lead of her worries now. "Everything around here gives me cold
seeds, nowadays," she said.
"Me, too," Will said, "almost all of the time." He stretched out on the ground,
propping himself up on his elbows. He gazed through the lower branches of the mango
trees towering above the makeshift huts in the clearing. A narrow strip of pale blue sky
was visible. "Backabush, we see tigers, mountain cows, and like that. You'll get used
"Doesn't sound to me like you've gotten used to it," Leah said. "Besides there
are no tigers back there. Jaguars, maybe." She was glad to say this since she felt Will
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
was nearly always right in his knowledge about the bush and often discounted her fears
because she'd been born and brought up in Belize Town.
"Go 'way with you, Leah," he said. "Every soul 'round here calls them tigers.
Dey must know."
"You ever see one, Will?" She really wanted to hear more about the fighting,
about who was winning and who was losing, and so she was sorry they had gotten into
one of their silly arguments.
"One of what?" He yawned.
"Those so-called tigers then."
"Plenty," Will said, putting a plug of tobacco into his mouth.
Leah sighed. He was offended now and probably glad of the excuse not to tell
her anything more about the fighting, which she feared was coming nearer to Lawson's
They were both quiet for a while, watching the family of deaf-mutes as they
slipped into the bush on the far side of the clearing, similar to so many others up and
down the river. Each mahogany bank or work had its encampments with huts and small
cultivations called plantations, where plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, and a variety of
other ground food and vegetables usually grew in abundance. But these everyday
sources of food were greatly depleted now, as almost every kind of work in the forests
and in the clearings was at a standstill.
Will was lying flat on the ground now, using his hands and arms as a pillow
under his head. Through the leaves of the mango trees, the sun flickered onto his face.
He closed his eyes, and, after a while, his even breathing told her he was fast asleep.
Perhaps he felt safe sleeping beside her, and for a moment she wondered about this.
Then her thoughts returned to the family slowly making their way to the riverside where
they would wait for a large dorey or pitpan willing and able to take them as passengers.
Will had said they were probably gone for good, and perhaps he was right
Nobody seemed to know or care very much about them, and they never seemed to have
any visitors to their house, which was little more than an isolated shack in the bush.
People always referred to them as deaf-mutes, but Leah could never quite understand
what that meant How could it be that nobody in the family could speak or hear? It was
a sad thing for her to contemplate. She decided she'd try to find out, one of these days,
maybe when the fighting was over, although it was difficult for her to imagine what her
life would be like then. "Probably just as it is now," she said to herself and was
surprised to discover that she was hoping that the fight would somehow make things at
least a little better in all their lives.
She thought of the youngest son, the one with the limp, and of the funny
sounds he made with his mouth. At first he had tried to make friends with her, at least
she thought that was what he'd been doing. He'd offered her mangoes and cashews as
if mangoes and cashews weren't common on the ground all around the huts and
everywhere else for miles. His actions puzzled, then frightened, her, for he always
seemed to appear when few people were in the clearing which was very often now since
the uprising began.
He would emerge smiling and without a sound on the path in front ofher, his
head tilted to one side and his big hands filled with fruit. He had a narrow face, large
ears, and eyes that changed from blue to gray in the light flickering through the leaves.
The second time he'd surprised her, she'd run back to the main hut through the layers of
fallen leaves, ankle deep on the ground, their crackling sound loud in her ears like
approaching rain on faraway trees. Dozens of mangoes lay rotting in heaps on the path.
She hated the squishy, sticky feeling of over-ripe mangoes squelching between her
toes, and the buzzing flies and insects crawling along her face, arms, and legs.
After he'd gone, she'd waited until there were a few older men outside the huts
sharpening machetes or feeding the oxen used for hauling the mahogany logs to the
river. Then she'd rushed back to the well, its opening surrounded by wide wooden
planks on the ground. She'd picked up her bucket, and, standing a few feet away from
the edge, flung it over the sides. It splashed into the greenish water so far down in the
earth. People said the well was older than any living person, and it was easy to believe.
Nobody really knew what was down there rotting in its depths: animals, perhaps, birds,
and other things like fallen leaves and fruit of various kinds. She'd pulled on the rope,
hauling up the bucket, anxious to feel the cool water splashing over her feet. It
removed the sticky dust from the path and the bits of hairy fruit clinging to her toes.
Leah smelt the ripened cashews that had fallen to the ground. They were
fermenting, and a strong scent of wine was carried on the breeze from the corer of the
clearing where numerous cashew trees grew. In the cool of the evening she would
perform one of her other tasks, gathering the ripened fruit for stewing in sugar. But
now, she reminded herself, there was probably not even enough sugar for tea. The
arrival of dories and pitpans loaded down with supplies from town had been the high
point of the month, but for the past few weeks, boats, empty or full, were rarely seen on
the river. Still, she could screw the nuts out of the yellow, fleshy, juicy, sweet fruit and
set them out to dry so that, later, when things were back to normal, she'd have them
ready for roasting in the ashes of a bonfire of leaves and sticks. When the gray seeds
were burnt to charcoal black and, after they had cooled, she would break them open
with a stone and remove the nuts, which always fetched a good price from the boatmen
who sold them, with great discretion, at the market in town.
But would things ever be quite the same again? She glanced at Will's long
legs straight out before him. His feet, like her own, were bare. She listened to the
rustling leaves of the common mango trees, which seemed to be nearly a hundred feet
high. These large mangoes were her favorite for their greenish yellow skins peeled back
neatly from the butter yellow, fleshy fruit which were never too sweet or too sour, but
something in between, and in season provided her with satisfying meals which helped
to ease the hunger that gnawed constantly at her stomach.
She knew that it was not only a hunger for food that she tried to satisfy in the
season of mangoes and cashews. It also wasn't only a hunger for freedom which
everyone she knew wanted with a passion and which they took whenever the
opportunity presented itself. Some people fled through one hundred miles of bush,
trying to cross the borders from the British settlement to the Spanish territories. The
settlers there, so it was said, gave runaway slaves their freedom, asking only that they
be baptized in the Catholic faith. Many perished during those dangerous treks through
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
the forests. But Leah did not yet want to go anywhere, except back to Belize, the main
town where she'd often seen the kind of life she hoped one day to have. She thought of
the Clare sisters, independent and free, in their small house overlooking the Haulover
Creek, which emptied into the Caribbean Sea.
It was the eldest Miss Clare who had first put the idea of going to see her
father into Leah's head. Otherwise it was unlikely that Leah would seriously have
considered taking a step that she knew beforehand might be seen as deliberate
provocation, insolence or insubordination, which she knew were all against the laws
and customs of the bay. The laws and customs in the settlement often seemed arbitrary
and unjust to Leah, and she did not always understand them. But the Clare sisters did,
and in the future, she would try to be guided by them, if there was a future for her
mother, Samuel, and herself. Like many people, Graham Lawson had other children in
the settlement, but the only one Leah really knew was an older woman called Sukey,
who worked for an apothecary and his housekeeper on the Foreshore.
Sukey, short and stout, had usually been friendly on the few occasions that
they'd met in the market where Sukey peddled handkerchiefs from a tray. Leah
resolved to herself that if ever she had another opportunity, she'd try to be better friends
with Sukey, whose mother, so Sukey said, had been an Indian from the Mosquito Shore.
Friendship with Sukey might not be easy, however, as Sukey never lost the chance to
let Leah know that she was more Indian than African and that it was her misfortune to
be held illegally as a slave in the settlement. It was almost the only topic of
conversation between them when they met. Leah smiled thinking of the indignation
that flashed in Sukey's dark eyes as she spoke about the "injustice of their situation,"
which was as much an obsession for Sukey as it was for Leah.
She had long known who her father was, and he knew her, but they had never
in public acknowledged any family connection. Sometimes, if he met her emerging
from an alleyway with a bundle of laundry on her head or hurrying along a back street,
he bowed his head slightly or lightly touched the brim of his black hat. More often than
not, however, he kept his eyes averted, pretending that he was unaware of her presence
on the narrow streets of the small town.
Leah accepted his actions as only right and proper in their respective
situations, and she had rarely, until her family had been summarily sent upriver, felt
conscious of feeling anything more than the vaguest resentment or hurt whenever from
a distance she saw her father entering the courthouse to attend a magistrate's meeting or
standing at the creek side talking with other mahogany merchants. She did not really
expect many favors or consideration from her father who was similar to the reputed
fathers of many slaves and free people of colour she knew in their settlement by sea.
But now, she felt very angry and upset that Ma Hannah, who was ill, and
Samuel, only eight years old, had been brought upriver, against the usual custom, to
work young Mr. Lawson, his white agent, and the male slaves remaining in Lawson's
Camp. Those slaves who were not involved in the fighting or had already been killed
were hiding out in places like Runaway Creek. Some were on their way to the Spanish
Trying not to think about all this, Leah gave a loud sigh. She was about to
rise to her feet and pick up her buckets when Will reached across and put one arm over
her shoulder. This made her uncomfortable, so she removed it.
"Leah," he said, "let's you and me be sweethearts?" He touched the scars on
his face, moving his fingers back and forth as though he was trying to memorize the
"I thought you were asleep," she said, trying to smile naturally. She didn't like
to hurt Will, who was her friend. Still, her heart was beating rapidly, and she was sure
her discomfort showed on her face.
"How about it?" Will asked, replacing his arm.
"No, Will," she said, removing his hand from her shoulder. "Hand me those
buckets," she said as he began swinging them in his hand, out of her reach. "I am never
going to be anyone's sweetheart."
"Yes, you will Leah, and one day you'll be glad to have me." His voice was
L -.lml i ,, i,-
Courtesy of Zee Edgell. All rights reserved Used with permission.
still warm, and he still smiled at her with great fondness.
"Did someone tell you that?" Leah asked. There was a growing ache in her
stomach, and she could feel her lips beginning to tremble. Will was becoming more
important with every day the fighting lasted. She looked into his eyes, large and dark,
with long lashes. People said his eyesight was so keen he could spot mahogany trees
miles away in the bush. If Will wanted her as his sweetheart, Graham Lawson, his son,
or their agents might agree. So would Thomas McGilvrey, who was Graham Lawson's
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
business associate, perhaps even his friend, for all Leah knew. "Why do you say that,
"I like you, and I feel sorry for you as well, sometimes." He looked down at
the buckets he held in one hand before setting them down near her feet. "I know you
"Yes, but I don't want to have a sweetheart," Leah said. She picked up the
buckets, glad to have something to do with her hands, glad that her heart wasn't beating
so fast anymore. "I want... I want...."
"What?" He was still smiling, but his eyes had narrowed to almost a squint.
Then his face grew suspicious.
"Oh, I don't really know, Will, I don't." She didn't want to lie to Will,
to tell him that she had seen someone else, that she had glimpsed another life, one that
in her dreams already belonged to her. During the past year, those dreams had
transported her out of the squalor and misery of her days and the more recent terror of
Of course Leah liked Will, and, when he was near, he made her feel safe, but
he was often away, even when things were fairly quiet. He was her old friend in a
crowd of shifting people who were mostly strangers to her. "I don't know, Will," she
Only she did know. But how could she tell him that what she wanted most in
the world was to be like the Clare sisters who, before the fighting, had been secretly
teaching her to read and write, to sew and embroider with white silken threads on fine
Will now looked miserable as though he hadn't expected her to reply as she
did, and the expression on his face told her that he was even now half inclined to
disbelieve her. So she said, "I don't know why, Will, but if ever I own a mahogany
work, you'll be my main man, in charge of everything. Not that I ever will, of course,
but if I ever do, you'll be Captain of my works."
Will laughed. His handsome face seemed to light up inside, and he rubbed the
side of his huge nose. He entered the hut and emerged with his musket, axe, and
machete, which he slid into the worn leather sheath before buckling the belt around his
"Bargain, Will?" Leah asked, fearful that he would refuse, that he would
become annoyed, even angry with her.
"Bargain, then Leah," he said. "I'll be satisfied with that for now anyway."
He rubbed a finger up and down her right cheek, then, whistling softly, he walked
rapidly away across the clearing, towards the hut in which her mother did most of the
cooking for the few people left at Lawson's Camp.
"He must have been joking," Leah said to herself as she made her way slowly
towards the well at the edge of the clearing. "I am sure he didn't mean it." She felt
even more vulnerable to danger than she had done before. What had possessed her to
tell Will that one day she hoped to own a mahogany camp, and one large enough to
need a captain? The whole idea seemed so ludicrous when she'd said it out loud.
Where had such an idea come from? The day had grown very humid, and sweat poured
down her face, yet she felt chilled inside, somewhere near her heart, which was beating
too rapidly for comfort.
Leah couldn't blame Will for laughing, not really. She hadn't ever said things
like that to anyone before, not even to her mother. As she hauled up a second bucket of
water, a new fear struck her so forcibly that the rope, slimy and wet, slipped from her
hands and the bucket fell back into the well. Just suppose Will, in his joking way,
decided to tell her mother, or other people, what she had said.
By now he was probably paddling a dory across the river on his way back to
the McGilvrey Camp or to one of the many caves he knew about. He would probably
tell Sharper what she'd said, and what a laugh they'd have about that. Leah was
relieved, though, that she hadn't told Will that what she wanted most was, in the
majority of cases, not possible in the settlement. She wanted a legal marriage, a family,
and a home. But marriage was expensive for slaves, a losing proposition for the
mahogany merchants, and it was actively discouraged, in the harshest ways, amongst
people like Will and herself.
Leah tried to put Will out of her mind as she carried buckets of water from the
well to the barrels, emptied them, and returned to the well. She tried to concentrate on
the life she'd led in Belize Town, and the eldest Miss Clare who had first given Leah
the idea that she could, one day, live as they did.
"I'll give you a hand with that," Miss Roslyn Clare had said the last Saturday
Leah had worked in their home. She took one end of a white cotton sheet and helped
Leah to fold it into a neat square. Freshly laundered towels, sheets, and pillowcases
were piled in the middle of the mahogany four poster bed, which the Clare sisters called
"their legacy." They'd never told Leah who had bequeathed to them the beautiful bed,
with its slender, graceful uprights. Leah had never asked about the reason for such a
generous gift, although she longed to know.
The Clare sisters' reticence about their private affairs did not surprise Leah, for
it was difficult to know who to trust, and confidences were shared only after a long
acquaintance. Leah had grown to womanhood knowing that the settlement was often an
unpredictable, dangerous place, where betrayals were common, revenge swift-even
deadly-and misfortune was a part of everyday life.
"From everything I've been hearing, Leab, this would be the right time for you
to make a visit to your father. Circumstances do alter cases." As she spoke, Miss Clare
moved from the bed to the wall cupboards, carrying armfuls of folded laundry, ready
for another day when Leah would press them with a flat-iron.
"Do you really think so, Miss Roslyn?" Leah asked, carefully smoothing out
an embroidered pillowcase. Her fingers lingered on the raised knots in the center of a
beautiful red rose. Miss Roslyn and her sister Miss Evelyn were well known in the
settlement for their fancy work and for sewing. For a long time Leah had been learning
all they were willing to teach her. She dreamed of the day when she would be able to
set herself up as they had done. During the dry weather, a fire had destroyed several of
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
the barrack-like rooms in the slave yard where Leah, her mother Hannah, her sister
Bess, and her brother Sam had lived. Since that time, Leah and the members of her
family had been separated and housed in the remaining rooms in the West End of the
town, which were already overcrowded.
Miss Roslyn Clare did not reply immediately. She bundled up another sheet
in her short, plump arms, and walked over to a rocking chair that was shaped like an
enormous barrel. The chair had been put very close to a window overlooking the street,
muddy after the previous night's rain. She peered through the wooden louvers
weathered to a gray the color of ashes. The slats rattled softly in the December breeze,
unusually cool for the middle of the day.
Miss Roslyn sat there in a dark green dress, smoothing out the wrinkles in the
sheet with her strong fingers. The sunlight from the window seemed to deepen the lines
on her light brown skin, which reminded Leah of the caramel she'd seen her mother
make in the houses where she worked. Miss Roslyn fingered a large, black mole which
protruded from the right hand corner of her upper lip. She often did this when she was
thinking things through. "In my experience, circumstances do sometimes alter cases,"
she said at last. "You could give it a try, anyway."
"Yes, Miss Roslyn," Leah said, knowing that she had no intention of following
her advice. Still it was interesting to think about it, and Miss Roslyn seemed to enjoy
passing the time in this way.
As she talked in a soft persuasive voice, Leah continued to stack the folded
the laundry at the foot of the bed, canopied by voluminous mosquito netting, in which
both sisters slept, canopied by voluminous mosquito netting. The bed occupied most of
the space in the front bedroom. There was a smaller bedroom to the rear of the house,
where the sisters kept their order books, papers, old trunks filled with imported threads,
cloth, wool, needles, and other supplies. But each sister had coveted the mahogany four
poster bed in the front bedroom with its view of the road and creek, where they could
see sailing boats, pitpans, and mahogany logs lashed together to form rafts.
"You must go and put your case to him, Leah, if not for yourself, then for the
others. Bow your head and ask. That's the way it's done here, and your mother knows
that very well."
Leah could feel Miss Roslyn's eyes on her back as she stood on tiptoe to place
the sheets on the highest shelf. She felt thankful that her small, narrow feet were not
only clean but carefully oiled. Leah enjoyed the feel of the smooth polished pinewood
floor beneath her bare feet. The bright blue color of her frock, made from a coarse
cotton fabric, had been washed away, but it was clean and neatly pressed. "I'll think
about it, Miss Roslyn. Perhaps Mama Hannah wouldn't like me to do that because of
Bess, you see Miss Roslyn?"
"Don't ask anyone, Leah," Miss Roslyn said, rising from the chair, which
rocked gently back and forth. "Go over there on your own, and put your case to him;
otherwise God only knows..."
"Knows what, sister?" Miss Evelyn Clare, tall and slender, stood in the
doorway, wearing a bright pink dress, trimmed with white. She held a cloth bundle she
had brought from the kitchen built as a precaution against fire several yards from the
main house. "What are you scaring the girl about now?" Her voice was deep and
"Don't accuse me of scaring Leah," Miss Roslyn said, throwing the sheet on
the bed. "I was encouraging her to go and see Graham Lawson. It's better than doing
"That fire happened weeks ago. If he'd wanted to do anything about re-
building those rooms, he'd have done so by now." Miss Evelyn placed the bundle on
top of the chest of drawers, above which was a large oval mirror.
Leah, who was used to the gentle but constant arguing between the sisters,
inhaled the sweet, sugary scent of the buns wrapped in the clean white cloth. On the
Saturday mornings she worked in their home, Miss Evelyn usually gave her something
good to eat as a treat. Today, from the smell, Leah could tell she had baked powder
buns for the sisters' tea later in the afternoon.
"It's his property, after all, and so are Leah and the rest, according to the
law. He has a responsibility," Miss Roslyn was saying, watching her sister's
movements as she crossed the room and picked up the ruffles for a yellow skirt she was
"Graham Lawson doesn't think about any of them very much now, which is
the better of two evils, I think." She slipped a silver thimble onto her middle finger.
"Look at the girl," Miss Roslyn said, pointing her forefinger at Leah who stood
near the door ready to depart. "He can't deny that she's his child."
Leah knew that Miss Roslyn was referring to her clear skin, golden brown in
color, to her soft hair, a bright reddish-brown, and to her brown eyes with their
yellowish tints. In Belize Town, shades of color were the primary concern in most
social relationships, even within families. Skin color could, and often did, determine a
person's place in the hierarchy of the settlement. Leah had her mother's broad nose and
full lips, which as the Clare sisters sometimes said, "were such a pity as her features
were so refined otherwise."
"He can deny anything he wants to deny, Roslyn. You of all people should
know that very well." Miss Evelyn tapped her middle finger, encased with the thimble,
on the arm of the barrel-shaped rocking chair.
The sound made Leah's heart beat. She knew that Miss Evelyn was right.
Graham Lawson had promised to free her mother if she ever bore him a son, but, when
Samuel had been born, he hadn't kept his promise.
"Besides, sister," Miss Evelyn said, "last month when we called to pay for
Leah's assistance, he showed not the slightest interest in Leah nor the rest, even though
we mentioned the fire and gave him every opportunity."
"Excuse me, Miss Roslyn, Miss Evelyn," Leah said. "I'll be going now, unless
you need me to do something else?" She knew that the sisters would probably continue
arguing until it was time for their tea, and Leah still had many things to do that day.
They looked at her as though they had forgotten she was still in the room.
"That will be all for today, Leah," Miss Roslyn said, her eyes distracted. Her
cheeks were red with annoyance.
"Please take those buns home with you, Leah," Miss Evelyn said, gesturing to
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
the chest of drawers which stood by the door. "Give my regards to Hannah and the
"Thank you, Ma'am. I will," Leah said, lifting the small bundle off the chest
of drawers, which stood near the bedroom door. She said goodbye and walked quickly
along the narrow corridor that led past the parlor and dining room, separated from each
other by a mahogany archway. Behind her, Leah could hear Miss Roslyn taking deep
"Tell your mother we'll be by again soon," Miss Roslyn said, her hand on the
"Yes, Miss Roslyn, and thank you." Leah pulled her headscarf lower on her
forehead and ran down the steps to the yard.
"Never mind Evelyn and her foolishness, Leah. Try to do what I told you,"
Miss Roslyn said, keeping her voice low.
"I'll think about how I am to do it, Ma'am," Leah said. "See you next week?"
"Yes," Miss Roslyn said, "and I'll want to know how you did."
"Yes, Ma'am," Leah said, bending her head so that Miss Roslyn would not see
the tears which filled her eyes. The Clare sisters were the kindest people she knew.
She picked up her boots, lifted her long skirt, and waded though the muddy water until
she reached the side of the road.
Leah had not gone to see Graham Lawson, for she had felt reluctant,
embarrassed, to even think of discussing Graham Lawson with her mother. Hannah
was a very quiet, private kind of person. She would probably think Leah was being
inquisitive and disloyal. Her mother's feelings were easily hurt these days, especially
by her children.
The following Saturday she hadn't seen the Clare sisters. That day Leah, her
mother, and brother had been sent, with other people, upriver to the Graham Lawson
mahogany camp. Hannah had been told it was a temporary measure, for their own
good, as food was becoming scarce in the town, but they all knew that this was only a
partial truth. In the camp, they had begun planting out new provision grounds for
themselves and for sale in the town. But near the end of May, Leah had heard from her
mother that a number of white men had been killed up river and several settlements
taken. It was difficult to know what to believe, but the past few days had showed Leah
how much worse their lives could become.
After she had finished filling the barrels, Leah stared down at her reflection in
the cask of water nearest the spot where she and Will had sat earlier in the day,
watching the deaf-mutes walk across the clearing to the river. If she and her family
managed to survive this latest conflict, she would, at the first opportunity, try to do as
the eldest Miss Clare had suggested. "I'll need to do something," she said to herself,
"Otherwise, who knows what else will happen to us."
There was a great commotion outside the huts in the clearing, and the noise
woke Leah. She sat up quickly, her heart thumping loudly, wondering who had been
wounded now or even killed. For a few minutes she felt unable to move. She had been
dreaming that she was lashed to enormous mahogany logs which were hurtling along
the river in flood. In the dream, the water rolled over her and the logs shifted suddenly
and she was underwater, unable to breathe or move her arms and legs. She was
drowning, and there was no thought except of the roiling water entering her lungs as she
was forced to inhale.
Leah sat on the edge of the wooden cot, hugging her knees, willing herself to
forget the nightmare. She needed to be calm, to think, to make sure she survived
through the ongoing fight in the bush and on the rivers and creeks. She peered through
the gloom to where Samuel slept on another bunk in the corer of the hut. He was still
there and safe, but her mother was gone, and she could tell that daylight was still a long
There was no howling of monkeys in the far distance nearer the river, no
chattering of birds in the trees. Through the open doorway, there was no glimmer of
light in the sky. During her first days at the camp, she'd often been wide awake before
day, listening to the heavy thudding of ripe mangoes falling to the ground, eager for
first light so that she could gather as many as she could in the long skirt of her frock.
But those days seemed to have happened to someone else. Leah moved swiftly across
the dirt floor of the hut and stepped outside. She stood quite still, looking towards the
flickering firelight where a knot of people were gathered. Someone lay on a stretcher
on the ground, and other people were moving in and out of the main hut, much larger
than the other huts, scattered around the clearing. "Not Will," she said to herself. "Not
Keeping to the shadows, she stepped into the hut used as a cookhouse where
her mother, Hannah, was kneading, her thin arms lifting up the dough up before
slapping it down on a makeshift table. Leah picked up a fraying straw fan from the
ground and fanned the coals in the hearth until they glowed and the pinewood began to
catch, the resin making popping noises, and the piney smell filling the hut. The flames
lit up the walls of palmetto poles lashed securely together with dried ti-tie vines. Her
mother's face was strained, frightened, her eyelids swollen from weeping. She looked
exhausted; the deep line between her eyes seemed to have lengthened.
"Is it Will?" Leah asked. She hardly recognized her own voice. She licked
her lips which felt dry.
"No," her mother said. She began picking up bits of dough from the edges of
the table. "It's Graham Lawson's son. He was chopped, I think, but I don't know for
sure." She looked at Leah, and her eyes seemed to grow smaller until they were almost
shut. Her shoulders heaved, and the tears coursed down her cheeks. Leah knew that it
was hard for her mother to say the words "Graham Lawson's son" because she meant
his legitimate son, who was thirty or thirty-five years old. Leah did not know whether
Graham Lawson's wife was living somewhere abroad or whether Mrs. Lawson was
dead. If her mother knew, she didn't say, and Leah did not ask. If Mrs. Lawson had
been living in the settlement, Leah was sure that she would have heard that news by this
time. She put her arms around her mother and pulled her close, inhaling the smokiness
of her hair, the odor of stale food on her clothing. She held her closer, resenting the
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
reasons, for the smell like overripe guavas mingling with the scent of rancid coconut oil
emanating from her mother's under arms.
"Sit Ma. Sit," Leah said, pushing her down onto a three legged stool.
Something terrible must have happened to make her mother give way like this. Usually
she sucked in misfortune as though it was her natural element She took great pride in
not letting anyone see her bowed down in the face of any kind of trouble. As a child,
Leah had watched her mother endure a whipping on her bare back without crying out.
"Is he dead?" Leah asked, pouring water into a small calabash and giving it to
her mother, who was trembling. Her forehead was cold to Leah's touch.
"I haven't heard," Hannah said. She paused, putting her hand gently over
Leah's mouth. Hannah held her head to one side, listening to the sounds outside.
Leah walked across the packed earth floor, hard as a stone, to peer cautiously
through the doorway. "It's Sam," she said, watching her mother's shoulders sag with
As Sam came through the door he looked expectantly at his mother, and at
Leah. He scratched one thin arm as he asked, "Did someone die?" His face was
pinched, his eyes bleary from sleep. "I was dreaming about Will."
"No," Leah said, "Mr. Lawson's son is injured or so Mama thinks. What did
you dream?" One of their most enjoyable past times used to be relating their dreams to
each other, but now Sam said,
"I don't remember it much. Did they lose?" He stood by doorway staring at
the group of men gathered near the fire and at the doorway of the main hut.
"No word yet," Hannah said to Sam, putting an arm around his bare shoulders
and pulling him gently away from the door. "But I have ajob for you today."
"What kind ofjob?" Sam asked, his dark eyes somber. A tall, thin boy of
about nine years old, he had a slight stutter and only spoke to strangers when it was
"Well, I've saved some food for Will. When it's daylight, you can go to the
pine ridge with Leah. Maybe he'll be around there, somewhere," Hannah replied.
"All right, Mam," Sam said. "But I heard there were soldiers in the bush,
"Probably just a rumor," Hannah said. She filled two glasses with
unsweetened tea from the big black kettle at one end of the fire hearth.
Leah and Sam took their tea and went to sit in a corer of the hut. Through the
doorway they could see the blazing fire in front of the hut in which young Mr. Lawson
was probably dying. Leah bent her head, hoping fervently that Will and his friend
Sharper had not been involved. She suspected that her mother knew more than she'd
said. Leah understood that for their own protection, Hannah would keep that
knowledge away from Sam and herself. So she asked, "If he dies, will they bury him in
the bush or in town?" She glanced at her mother who was turning the small cakes in the
huge black iron pot. Their fragrant smell made her mouth water. She could almost
taste the flakiness of the baked dough, very slightly salty on her tongue. She felt as
though she could eat a hundred cakes rather than the one or two she was likely to
"Oh, in town, I guess," her mother replied. She shoved the burning wood
further into the bed of glowing ashes in the hearth.
The fighting had been going on for many weeks now. Leah had lost track of
which slaves were in revolt and which were fighting on the side of the masters. She
thought of Will, wondering where he was and which side he had taken. He had been
certain that, after it was all over, thousands of former slaves would be free to live in
town, on the offshore islands, or on faraway riverbanks, where they could have small
plantations and live in villages with others like themselves, the way the Maya Indians
did. Leah wasn't sure Will wanted that kind of life for himself, but she realized, with a
sense of dismay, that she didn't really know. She wished now that she had thought to
She watched as her mother placed several cakes on the table. After she
thought they had cooled sufficiently, Leah broke one open and placed it into Sam's
hands. She watched the steam rising into the air. As she picked up another cake,
inhaling the smell, the commotion started in the clearing again. Someone shouted,
Hannah gave a brief cry, then closed her eyes. She pulled the kerchief off her
head and began wiping her face, "We're for it now," she said. Someone else was
calling Hannah's name, and as she left the cookhouse and walked slowly across the
clearing, Leah longed to accompany her mother, to help her in some way, but to follow
her was impossible. Her mother would expect Leah to watch out for Sam and to cany
on in the best way she could.
Her family was, she guessed, the rag tag end of Graham Lawson's property in
slaves which had once numbered between fifty and one hundred during the twenty or
more years he had been in the settlement. Where he had lived before that and how he
had lived, nobody knew for sure, but this was not unusual. The residents were
unsurprised when a new person, white or black, appeared on the Foreshore, on the Front
and Back Streets, on Northside or Southside or on the numerous rivers and creeks or in
the mahogany camps and forests. There, as likely as not, one could meet Maya Indians
going about their business, or a Spanish official intent on disguising his own route
through territories the Spanish had conquered from the Indians. The slaves, from
various parts of Africa, and the various Indian groups lived their lives between these
two great powers, the British and the Spanish, and did the best they could to survive
from day to day.
To save money, Leah believed, and perhaps to avoid personal contact with her
mother, Graham Lawson had, for many years, rented them out as domestic help and
lived as best he could on the income they provided him and on the proceeds from the
dwindling stock in his shop. "There is no market anymore for logwood," she'd heard
people say. "No more credit in London, until debts are cleared." During the past few
months, however, young Mr. Lawson had returned to the settlement hoping to revive
the Lawson fortunes by exporting mahogany for which there was a growing market
Leah felt very cold as she stood with Sam in the doorway, watching her mother
enter the main hut to help Daniel Sproate, the small, wiry, black-haired man who was
Creative Writing by Zee Edgell
Graham Lawson's agent, and the other slaves who had returned early that morning with
the young Mr. Lawson, who was now dead. He'd been a tall, quiet man with a quick
temper, and Leah had stayed out of his way as much as she could. Like his father, he'd
ignored them for the most part, but now and then he'd taken Samuel with him to catch
butterflies, which he preserved in glass cases. On many Sunday mornings, he dressed
in his best suit and wore a wide straw hat on his long brown hair. After lunch, he sat
beneath the mango trees and read books and papers. But for the remainder of the week,
from sun-up to sun-down, he trekked about the busy with the few remaining slaves,
looking for mahogany trees. As Leah turned bak into the hut, the acrid scent of the
ashes in the smoldering hearth made her feel sick. She forced herself to place the
buckets of water her mother would need onto the iron bars of the hearth. Sam stoked
the fire, adding sticks ofpinewood until it was blazing.
Neighter she nor Sam was hungry anymore. The Johnny cakes had grown cold
and would soon be almost too tough to chew. "Young Mr. Lawson told me to call them
journey cakes and not Johnny cakes," Sam said, looking through the doorway. His face
was drawn, his eyes shiny, as though he wanted to cry. "Do you think Mr. Lawson was
"Maybe," Leah said. Then she added, "He knew a lot about butterflies, so
perhaps he was." Sam had not cried since Bess died the year before, and Leah hoped he
would be able to hold up under this new strain. She went to the door where he was now
crouched staring at the hut in which young Mr. Lawson lay on his bush bed. Around
him were cases of butterflies on makeshift tables and piles of books on the benches
against the walls.
"Let's get ready to go to the pine ridge," she said to Sam. The sky had
lightened and it would soon be daylight. "We need to find Will."
"Aren't you afraid to go now, Leah?" Sam asked, helping her to tie the cakes
into a cloth and wrap stewed gibnut and spinach into fresh plantain leaves.
"I am," Leah said. "You?"
Sam nodded, then said, "But I am still willing to go."
"All right," Leah said, wondering how Graham Lawson would bear the sad
news about his son. "We won't be gone long but we'd better take the machete in case
of snakes and things."
"Right," Sam said, shouldering the bag that held the food and water.
Hannah was still in the main hut when Leah and Sam walked to the path near
the well. Leah remembered the family of deaf-mutes who had crossed their clearing
several days before. She thought of Will and the hours they had spent together. It all
seemed to have happened a long time ago.
Ronmond & King
Lajablesse' in Oakland
Is who you tink dat man was trying to film?
You seen it I know you seen it plenty times it grainy-grainy and far like a home
He see a pretty dark skin gyul in a long skinny skirt twitchin she twitch an he grin an he
say "tape rollin." Is only later like he release from a spell he realize a man was being
beat by police. He never know wha happen to de piece o tape wi de piece o tail.
Is not a cloven hoof- is a club foot
One night I holding me face looking at dat piece o ting call herself a man an de fire in me
head come out trou me mout I cuss he slow, an when I finish I say I gwine leave he.
He stan up watching me an when I finish he turn roun an slash wit de machete. Leave?
He leanin into me face. Laughin. Leave now.
I had to bind me own foot.
He didn hardly come by after dat. I suppose since I couldn't get around much to cook or
anything else. But when me foot heal, I go an stan up in de road where I know he mus
pass comin back from de rumshop or whichever jamette he keeping house wit now.
Is train tracks on one side an forces on de odder an even he ain go run in no forces after
I dress nice an pretty, an even wit de club foot I a prize because in dose months me face
done recover from takin licks. I want him to see I is still a woman. A desirable woman.
A woman who could still stan up. A woman who was gwine to kill he. Only I ain
thought too much bout de killing part. I ain bring no machete, not even a skillet or big
stick. But den all thinking was to stop because I see he.
An as he get closer an he know it me I start walking. Not good because I not too use to
de club foot yet. An I smile, for I know if ever will could do anything, my will gwine to
kill dis man. An I smiling an I limpin an he lips begin to tremble like fryin pork an
Lord how he frighten!
An I smiling an limpin an is de forces to one side, de train tracks on de odder an me dead
Creative Writing by Rosamond S. King
center wit death on my mind. Suddenly so he freeze. He turn an leap. Tryintojump
de freight! It go so fas, I not really sure wha happen. But as he catch up on a car and
look home free one minute, de nex he danglin by a foot, screaming like a goat bein killed
How de conductor didn hear me don know, because everyone in de parish dat night
wondering what obeah was being done for a goat neck to be slit so slow dat it scream so
long. But de train soon stop an as people piece togedder de body dey piece togedder a
story of wha happen.
I limp up to de rum shop an walk in among all dose men, some o dem no better dan de
one in pieces by de train tracks, an dere silence hold me up. I down six shot o rum -
Hubert never ask for payment yet an walk straight out same way. From dat night, no
man speak to me.
Dey call me lajablesse. Devil woman. Even de women dem too bad talk me in de
street. But when night fall dey come try mamaguy me wit sweet tamarind and cloth no
one will sell me in de store. Bless, dey say, for den dey say I am blessed, Bless dis man
does treat me bad, bad. You cyan do him something for me ?
What I gwine say? Me ain have no money, dey treat me like I is kill pries in town, I say
I go see what I could do. Is you all own fear an longin an hate dat is give me power. Is
you all make me lajablesse.
Of course I had to leave dat town. An anywhere I go now I only passing trou. Is so how
I reach Oakland, for I find dat men is do evil all over, an since I could travel I could go
see bout evil anywhere. You know I ain have but one power. Dat is de power to make
man see hisself. Dat sweetman mashup on de train tracks is not me who kill him!
He reach up on de train as he turn to laugh in me face, he see himself. An what he see
so ugly, it frighten him so, he lose his grip and baps! all finish.
An de man in Oakland. He not a good man, mind, he not good tall. But he don
deserve beating in de street like a dog. Dis ting happen in LA, Notting Hill, Toronto,
Kingston. An when I see dis cokey-eye man wit a video, me tink TECHNOLOGY.
Now dere is a way to get a whole heap a people to see demselves. An it could use to
get retribution in dis world as well as sen some folks into de next. I not anybody
special. I is just your retribution.
So I go all over. An I always looking fine, because men an women always trying to sweet
me up, trying to see what dey could get from me, what dey could get me to do. An de
more dey look at me, de more dey see demself.
You know, is really Sou who bind me foot. I couldn't have done it. I shame to say it,
but I was scared of she you know what dey say. But dark as it was I see she had no
wings, an her skin was intact an dark as mine.
I lie. Is one odder power I have. Lets call it de Still Here power. De here change an
change again, but I still here. An dat is all I really want to say, dat I not dead yet.
1. Lajablesse, from the French la diablesse, or devil-woman, is a Trinidadian folk character
described as a beautiful woman who seduces men away from their homes and leads them to
their deaths. She is said to always wear a long skirt to hide the cloven hoof (cow foot) that
betrays her. The Soucouyant, also a female Trinidadian folklore character, is an old woman
who at night is supposed to shed her human skin at night and fly around, usually appearing as
a ball of fire, to suck human blood, usually that of children. If salt is placed on her skin, it
will shrink and not fit her, and she will die. Both characters are mythological figures but are
also terms sometimes used to slander women who are without children, alone, or outcasts.
Creative Writing by Magaly Quifones
Para grabar tu nombre
Para que yo me cure, el indio que hay en mi
baila su danza
quemando la memorial de tus dias frente a la gigantesca fogata.
Y para que yo suba sin resbalar
sobre el despefladero de mis ansias,
el negro que en mi vive,
mezcla yerbas en prietas calabazas
y me obliga a beber tu sudor y tu sangre
en feroz exorcismo.
Y para que yo olvide el dolor que tu piel
dej6 en mi piel,
la moral religiosa del colono espaflol que vive en mi,
obedeciendo al dogma desata
la frialdad en mi mano, la firmeza en mis ojos,
mudez en mi palabra.
La 61tima vez que me atrevf a salir a enfrentar mi dolor
las tres razas me dieron de comer
pero no pude contener las ligrimas.
La ultima vez que quise anochecerte el alma,
vi al sol que se escondia tras mis versos
para grabar tu nombre.
To Engrave Your Name On My Mind
For me to heal
the Indian that inhabits me
performs his dance
burning your memory
in a gigantic blaze.
And for me to climb without slipping
over the cliff of my longings,
the Negro that inhabits me
blends saps and herbs in a black calabash
and forces me to drink your sweat and your blood
in fierce exorcism.
And for me to forget
the pain that your skin left on my skin,
the Spanish dogma and moral virtue
that inhabits me,
coldness in my hands, harshness in my eyes,
muteness on my lips.
The last time I dared to face my pain,
the three races nourished me
but I couldn't hold my tears.
The last time I tried to cast a shadow on your soul,
the sun hid behind my verse
to engrave your name on my mind.
Creative Writing by Jennifer Rahim
The sound of power-saws run forever like the river. Papa watching the sky
where last night moon still hang up. Look like somebody take a big bite off Father
Murphy altar bread. He shake his head one two three times and say, "People who know
about timber don't fell trees in full moon. That Baal asking for trouble."
I feel like the whole world weighing down his words. Maybe Papa could see
my load because he make my favourite sweet-eye that tell me I'm his only girl. Then I
have his good don't-touch cutlass to hold while he sling the heavy crocus bag over his
shoulders. Papa could make even a sky set for rain change its mind.
Something driving Mr. Baal.
"Is the devil in he tail," Miss Germaine say. "Look to me like the Lord send
his testing of fire for his people. Stand firm child. Stand firm."
Day after day the hours bawl as Mr. Baal and his men milk the forest of
anything that could feed Mr. Joseph sawmill behind the post office. Postmistress Da
Silva swear she never see Mr. Joseph so bright. He broadcasting plans to buy modern
machinery for the mill to every-man-jack he meet in the post office. She don't bring it
up, but people know that Mr. Joseph sweet on her. Bazodee. They see how he step up
his advances since Mr. Baal business pump so much air in his chest he believe he could
break through Miss Da Silva prized cocoa paynol skin. Poor Mr. Joseph.
For weeks now Mr. Baal sweaty and boisterous in First and Last. After work
his pants pocket fat with notes from all the timber he sell to the mill. Pinto, Steve,
Shorty, even Miss Ivy lazy son, Terry, buzzing round like flies, hustling him for a day
or two work because the pay good. La Petit don't have much opportunity and Baal is
the new saviour they hoping to ride out on, save some money quick quick to get them to
the bright lights in Port-of-Spain. Others with less ambition linger in his shadow
clicking their tongues because sometimes Mr. Baal get so high on the spirits everybody
is family and white nru start to flow free. The talk when I go with Mama to buy cheese
and cooking oil is about the better days that coming to La Petit. And somebody hand
always throw across Mr. Baal shoulders like he is a hero or something.
Papa not hanging around First and Last these days. And when month end
come and he take the trip to Port-of-Spain to sell produce and pick up supplies from by
Horace Wholesale, he don't get kept back by poor sales or rain. Night-time he home
with stories about the tight skirts the office women wearing, and the traffic and the
"Town life not easy," Papa swear and wink his eye at me.
And I feel lucky that we living so nice and quiet in the bush. "Bush," that is
what teacher call La Petit when she first come all the way from San Fernando, the place
where she born and grow.
When evening time come, Papa with us at home. Sometimes he sit down on
the veranda with whoever happen to stop to kill time with ole talk and a shot of rum.
After he make sure everything lock up good, he lie down to sleep with Mama. Outside,
the yard is cold, wet mud now that there is rain every day. Mama says that is why the
congoree curl up so tight in almost every corer of the house. And a light burning in
Mama. Even when night-time come, sunrise shining in her.
I settle on my pillow and listen to their low TALK WALK through the wooden
partition. It wrap me up like a blanket. Doors and windows shut up tight against the
mountain-cold and insects that looking for a dry place to escape the rain. Thankyou
thankyou is the pace of breathing during the season of heavy water. I drift off to sleep
praying never to move because where I lying soft and warm like under the wings of
Miss Lady, Mama's best brown layer.
I don't say anything. I only watching at how Mama often smiling to herself
while she busy washing. Miss Phyllis whose eyes sharper than chicken hawk give
herself liberty to explain to everybody the signs to read when a woman sweet on a man.
She claim that he will get under her skin and set a fire that will make her glow. So the
river want to know if that is why Miss Phyllis always looking like ripe rose mango
since she tending about three fires at the same time. Miss Phyllis answer with her eyes.
More mischief swimming in her smile than the river willing to disturb. The women just
shake their heads and go on with the washing. There is so much good feeling that
clothes hammered against the smooth, brown stones make a sound like clapping. No
anger lashing out in Mama's labour. No hard-to-remove stains on Papa's shirts. And
lately, the river telling no new stories about the town lady.
Papa never mention it, but I know he want Mr. Baal far from his eyesight. Mr.
Baal up and down the place, walking a dream that he big as the trees his men shout
behind before they hit the ground. His voice and the power-saws make the same sound.
From sun-up they grind and growl in the hills; everyday the forests groan and tear;
everyday the village hear a new kind of silence following the crashing of giants.
"Something in the air," Miss Germaine say.
Her eyes look towards the hills with an uneasy watchfulness and then the long
sigh as if she making answer to some complaint riding the back of the wind. I can't tell
Mama what Miss Germaine say because she warn me to stay out of Baptist people yard.
Mama don't believe in the way Miss Germaine pray. And I suppose she right because
even Father Murphy say in Sunday school that Catholic is the only church. I don't tell
Mama but I feel Miss Germaine and Jesus walking real close.
Now the river talking mainly about Mr. Baal and his intention to build a house
in the centre of the village that bigger and better than white people own. He all about
the place broadcasting his plans like when people pay Peppy to make a death
announcement over his loudspeaker. Papa listening good to all the talk but his mouth
Creative Writing by Jennifer Rahim
lock up. Not even Uncle Franklyn who press him to talk his mind plain whenever he
stop by for a drink could get a word from him.
"What you say Austin, what you say? Them fellas mashing up the place man.
That Baal is trouble in long pants. You hear what I say."
And Uncle Franklyn waiting for Papa to drop his ace. But Papa is a rock by
the riverbank, silent and strong as the water let go its tongue, wanting to know, "What
Baal think he playing? Where he think he going with he quick-make money? Uppity,
that is what wrong with he. Just so a man is up and forget herself and where he come
from? Just so a man make dollar-note god."
Stone and clothes go slap, slap, slap to loosen dirt that get in-between the
threads. Mama always say, "Dirt is a stubborn thing."
The river flowing fast down the mountain, running as though the devil trailing
its heels. Is break-neck speed round bends and somersaults down sudden falls. Miss
Germaine sitting with her Bible behind the closed half of her kitchen-door listening,
incense and candle burning. Her eyes heavy with secrecy like the moving body of
water down in the gully. Always in the months of real rain, the river empty its bowels.
It is the time of waiting and watching, and for warnings about the strength of currents
that could pull you far from home.
The voice of the Lord resounding on the waters, the voice of the Lord on the
immensity ofwaters. Miss Germaine let loose her psalm, then wait as if an answer
would come walking the air back to her. I pull Papa's old denim jacket closer and draw
my feet up under my skirt. Miss Germaine kitchen cold this morning, and I feel alone
because I sense she gone to some far place behind her eyes. Only the steady flame of
the candle on top of the safe watching with me as the rain start up again. And there is a
kind of peace in the silence of moving water and steady rain that almost make me want
to DOZE off right there in Miss Germaine Morris chair. But I feel I have to keep watch
while she deep in her prayers.
Then her voice come back full with knowing like when teacher ask me to spell
a word and I know it. The Lord's voice shaking the wilderness, the Lord's voice
rending the oak tree and stripping the forest bare. Now Miss Germaine eyes open wide
and they clear as a washed sky.
This August, the mornings different. Papa slip the latch from its place. Give
his tall work boots two hard knocks before he put them on and is striding across the
soggy yard. Following his steps not easy because my rubber slippers cling and slip on
the muddy ground. Just now I will have tall boots with red soles of my own. That is
what Papa promise me the next time he have to go to the city. When we reach the
starch mango that guarding the track leading down to the river, Papa squat down to get
a better view of the water. Too much mud, too much of the mountain washing away
and the river spreading her hips, pushing further and further into Papa's piece of plant
up ground on the far side of the bank.
After he watch and listen, his face is cloud waiting to burst and I know inside
his head strong water swirling like the river. We retrace our steps but his head hang
down like when the women at church hearing a Scripture about some coming disaster
and Father red with conviction shouting down the place.
"Set your house in order, brothers and sisters! Who can know the hour? Who
can stand before HIM?"
When I ask Mama what the priest so worried and angry about, she say in a off-
hand kind of way, "Father, only excitable. He mean to say Jesus want you to be a good
This morning the sermon in Papa head so dread not even the sun could lift its
A few days later, after another night of heavy showers, the news of Miss Ivy
calamity scamper across the yards like a fowl that see snake. The night before, the river
ups jus' so and walk straight through Miss Ivy door and make row with her.
Mama's jaw drop like a full mango because nothing like that ever happen in
this part. Papa take in the news like he hear the whole story already. Not a word, but
his eyes darken and remain still with knowing.
Miss Ivy cry buckets on Miss Germaine steps.
"Eh, why this bad thing fall by my gate?"
Her head is a bamboo-patch gone crazy with too much wind.
Is a long time before Miss Germaine answer, but her hand up and down Miss
Ivy back, up and down, as though she making the skin ready to receive her answer.
"Who know the mind of the Lord child? Who see his plan? Don't trouble yourself. He
have eyes to see and ears to hear. Youjust pray. Work and pray and wait on his day."
Sometimes the river can go silent, like when rushing water suddenly bounce up with a
big pool that swallow its pace, holding it still in deep darkness. If you wise and know
about rivers you wouldn't just jump in and disturb the water because you don't know
how far the bottom drop. You can't see the rocks. You can't tell if a zangie waiting
under the surface. You don't know nothing, so you have to stop, listen and watch,
because if a mermaid happen to live in the pool, she will hold you below the water and
keep you there forever. Everybody say that is what happen to the white man, certified
engineer from away, who make a high dive into the basin behind Esperanza Estate and
never come back up gain. Just so things happen if you not careful.
Creative Writing by Jennifer Rahim
Except when it is Saturday night and he in the bush hunting, Papa spend most
of his free hours doing this and that about the yard. These days he with his saw and
nails because Mama finally get him to throw up a proper shed where she could hang out
her washing that take long to dry these days. Too much rain.
Mr. Titus most times drop by and keep him company. Sometimes he pass
Papa the tools and nails, but mostly he sit down quiet on the old flamboyant stump, his
eyes following Papa from the posts to his make-shift work-bench. Driver, that is what
Mama say they use call him up in San Juan Estate. As always, his head cover with a
hat that Mama sure he come out his mother belly wearing. The rim of Mr. Titus hat so
wide his face is shadow.
"Is so douen does look," Uncle Franklyn tell me one day when Mr. Titus was
passing and I was explaining that teacher tell the class that all the talk about douen and
soucouyant is only old lady tales.
"Superstition," teacher say.
Uncle Franklyn let go one long suck teeth.
"Teacher is a town lady. She don't know 'bout them thing. I telling you is just
so douen does look. That there is only a big man douen," he say and poke me in my
rib-case. We both burst out laughing.
Now a voice come out from beneath the hat and I forget all about Uncle
"I hear how Baal buying trees from anybody who want to sell."
Papa make no answer. I stop my own construction of the fence I making with
nails and look towards the stump. Mr. Titus, as far as I could tell, not paying any mind
to Papa. He concentrating hard on something on the ground.
"It have plenty men selling trees like crazy. Easy money."
He put out this knowledge dry as old bread. I can't tell if he angry to see how
fast the forest disappearing or if he just don't care. The invisible thing on the ground
still holding his attention.
"You have to watch that Baal. Fellas say a few trees stop just so and walk off
people property when everybody sleeping."
Papa in his white merino and strands of hair in his armpit squeeze themselves
free like the stubborn weeds that burst through the concrete in the courtyard at school.
The sun catch their tips and they glow like the sharp silver points of the nails I stick in
"If Baal touch my trees, he will deal with Austin Lezama. It have some kind
of madness that possess that man, but he better don't bring it in my yard."
Mr. Titus watch him with a steady stare as if he testing Papa's words. When
he satisfy, he nod his head and make a grunt that sound like "I hear you."
On Sunday morning I must do one thing: go to Church. Mama not going this
time because her belly not itself. I ask no questions but suppose she seeing her
monthlies-the thing that will one day happen to me. When Papa is not around, Mama
explain in her full bucket voice that I when my time come I will bleed every month only
if I am a good girl. I listen but hope I have a long time again before my time reach.
Not like Francine. She get it already and have to drink carili tea.
In the rainy season, the river-banks get soggy and the water dark and
unfriendly. No sunlight winking back from the surface of the water, no warmth rising
from the smooth, brown backs of rocks and the green always-damp, hurry-to-grow
grass hide up familiar tracks. Miss Reyes tell us in Sunday school that saints always
obey their parents. They never stray.
Sunday morning is no time to knead mud between your toes. Mama home
listening to the bells announce the start of Mass. And I going up river in my fancy
Sunday clothes. In my hands I have my one good shoes I wear to Aunty Sheila's
church-wedding that Mama say was long over-due with Francine already a young lady
and the twins ready for First Communion.
My feet follow an over-grown path along the flowing water. If Mama see how
the stained glass windows glitter when the sun break through the leaves, and how the
mist rising like a secret to the high bamboo ceiling, will she be angry with me? If she
could hear the river say prayers, sing hymns sweeter than Mrs. Sanchez choir, will she
beat me for running away from Mass?
Even now Father must be walking funeral-pace behind the acolytes. The fresh
white of their robes making a train of light into the church. And here the breeze
hustling to where I don't know. It brush pass bamboo without so much as "excuse" like
teacher always preaching, and the sky same time rush in and make the chapel glow.
Saints don't walk bare-foot in their clean church clothes. Worse. They do not
walk up aisles with mud on their feet. Sainthood is not my calling because I can't
always take on sitting forever while Father talk and talk and then fidget at the altar slow
and careful like when Mama preparing a special Sunday meal, and Papa and I have to
wait with the worms quarrelling in our belly.
If Mama see me she will be proud for so because I sitting as still as a statue on
a rock, listening to the sermon preached by the water on stones. And I hang up my
dress on a tree so it won't get dirty. Not like Papa, who is sure to be dragging his pants
bottoms on some mossy log all now instead of sitting down in church like decent
people. Although he can name every priest who pass through La Petit, Mama can't get
Papa to go. "My religion is the bush," he say. "Priest business too pretty."
Papa, I know you don't have time with me now because you must be thinking
about all the wild beast that you hold or almost hold. But I want you to know that the
two of us have the same religion.
I sitting on a river-stone in my panties because I don't want Mama to know
where I went. And when you come home with your mouth full of the forest, I will eat
all your words like the priest small, white communion, even though Mama believe the
Creative Writing by Jennifer Rahim
bush can't teach what Father stand up every Sunday and preach. Papa, if I listen hard
and forget the saws that bawling even this early morning, you think I can hear you
coming down the mountain?
The riverbed full of mud, Papa. Is Mr. Baal who mess up the place. Make
Miss Ivy cry. While walking in the shallow, I feel the mountain ooze between my toes.
You think the whole of La Petit will end up in the sea, Papa? Teacher tell us that the
river take everything to the sea.
She not coming back to school in September, Papa. Francine say she gone
back to San Fernando because here life too slow. That is what she tell Father after
church and Francine happen to hear. Teacher never get to like La Petit, Papa. Francine
say is because she too accustomed to bright lights and convenience. You know what,
Papa? Francine going in Common Entrance class and she plan to pass for a big school
in town, one of those convent schools like St. Joseph or Holy Name. And when she get
big, she getting a job away in America or Canada and never coming back to this place.
Papa, you know what I think? I really believe that Mr. Baal hate this mountain, no
matter what he saying about brightening up the place. Is trees I hear falling on Sunday
morning? I think he really want the rain and the river to wash the whole village down
to Port-of-Spain where he feel real people living. But I could be wrong, Papa. May be
Miss Germaine at it again. She say that Papa Bois will get Mr. Baal for all the
wrong he doing to the forest. Papa Bois living in the high woods where you and Uncle
Franklyn hunting. And he will punish anybody who cut down the big trees and kill the
animals for greed. So you don't have to worry 'bout Mr. Baal stealing your trees. Papa
Bois will get him. You ever see Papa Bois, Papa? He ever force you to marry Mama
Dglo? You ever go deep, deep inside the woods following a deer and couldn't find
your way out?
If ever I meet Papa Bois, Miss Germaine sure that all I have to do is be polite
and never look at his feet. Otherwise he will get very angry. Everybody must have a
fault, Papa. I don't see why Papa Bois should get vex if people notice the condition of
his feet. Why he have to hide? Papa, I have this habit of looking at all the trees. There
is so much to see and I feel I will never finish looking. Papa, I might get into trouble if
I happen to come across Papa Bois because I can't settle for only half-seeing a person.
You think I fas', Papa? Mama always saying that the people in La Petit see and hear
too much. I rather be fas' than stupid like how people say Miss Reyes so hide up in
prayers she couldn't see to live. To tell you the truth Papa, I want to see everything.
Papa, Mass just about over and I have to go home. And I just hear your gun
explode. So loud, the parrots start to bawl and digs-out. Even the saws like they get
dumb. I hope you didn't shoot no deer with young because then Papa Bois will never
let you find your way home. Papa, I too shame to say but I nearly jump out my skin
because I feel something bad happen. Miss Germaine tell me I have a seer gift and I
should go to mourning-ground one day. That will send Mama to her grave. Anyway, I
have to go now, Papa, but I swear I feel a bad spirit pass behind me. But when I look
'round is only the trees watching me and one of them wearing my church dress. Papa, I
have to think up a sermon to tell Mama because she will want to know what the priest
say from the pulpit. It so quiet now, Papa. What the bush tell you today?
Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
Podriamos llamarle Vuelo 202
de la npvela La muerte definitive de Pedro el Largo
el bar estaba oscuro, ceniciento, golpeando con su oscuridad los colors de las limparas
de Tiffany's que bonibardeaban sus colors rojo-rubi, amarillo-amarillo,
verde-esmeralda; una de las banquetas, alta, mAs alta que mis pieras, me mantenia alli,
sentada frente a la bara, frente a un Grand Manier que se hacla color naranja y sabor
naranja y pasi6n de alcohol y distancia casi protector en este afio que podia haber sido
el de 1920 y era misbien el de 1985 cuando yo era mujer y me alimentaba de
zanahorias y verdura que brotaban sigilosamente del asfalto, de las ventanas de algun
subway, de los raflesidel tren, de la proa de algun barco; salia yo, a una hora indefinida,
a rastrear la presence de alguna hoja, un tallo de apio que detesto, algo que se dijera
alimento, y despus iomenzaba el process penoso, inyectarme todo aquello por las
ufias, volatilizarlo pr mero, invisibilizarlo, invisibilizar los carbohidratos, la clorofila,
alguna protein perd da en el pequefio mont6n vegetal, alimento, que se diga,
vaporizado, amaestrdo, verlo atravesar el largo de las uflas hasta que se perdia de vista
al llegar a las cuticuls y sentirlo pasar entonces y eventualmente, al flujo de alguna
corriente de sangre; todo esto ocurria siempre en el mAs absolute secret, en la cocina
de Sunnyside, en el Iiso alto hasta donde legaba la hiedra que subia desde la plant
baja para tapar la fa4ada de ladrillos rematada con ventanas y por donde un dia vi
volar las hostias que consumiamos aquella mujer eterea y yo; el temple lo form ella
con misica de Moza y Beethoven, con incienso, con unas palomas blancas
transparentes, que a la hora de la meditaci6n le cedian el movimiento a la mnsica de
Kitaro y detenfan ells su vuelo, quedindose con las alas abiertas en la pequefla sala
donde se concentrabl toda Lhasa, Potala, y las ropas blancas que nos cubrian, aquellas
camisas anchas y lists y aquellos pantalones anchos y amarrados en la cintura, que nos
permitian former casi perfectamente, la flor de loto; en ese silencio silencioso profimdo,
la rueda, chakra, estsella, giraba en su punto de luz en el mismo centro de nuestra frente
y desde ese punto gi atorio salfamos a elevarnos para llegar al Maestro aunque
sabiamos que amu nI nos era permitido el encuentro, s61o llegabamos hasta Mount Abu
par contemplar dese su altura otras montafias, para dejar que las nubes nos golpearan
la cara con su salud, con su liberaci6n humedecida, con su realidad ya liberada, aunque
sabfamos que habia *)As, much m6s, en la elevaci6n inaccesible donde no existfa la
densidad y a donde for el moment, nos era vedada la entrada; con la ultima nota de
Silk Road, volviamos a nuestra frente, al punto de luz energetizado por la meditaci6n y
deambulabamos entpnces por aquel apartamento de pisos de madera, con su fachada de
ladrillos abrazada pqr la hiedra en el que una vez conte hasta diez ventanas, un largo
pasillo, dos habitaciomes y various cuartos mis; alli, por aquel espacio dividido,
deambulibamos co4 nuestra ropa blanca y nos declamos que nos habitaba la luz; otras
veces nos sentfbams frente a frente, siempre en flor de loto, y nos dibamos drishti,
transmisi6n de la energfa a traves de vasos comunicantes invisibles: la mirada; hasta
que la energia golpeaba las pupilas y nos corria por el rostro, liquid, intense, basta que
nos tocaba algin resort en la chakra del coraz6n para avisamos que era la hora de la
paz, que podfamos deambular tranquilas, con nuestra ropa blanca, por todos los
rincones de la casa de hiedra, por todos los rincones de la casa de ventanas, hasta que en
la cocina, sentadas a la mesa de cristal y hierro blanco, tomibamos el te de jazmin que
nos ponia una mascara de humo h6medo y de aroma; y todo dur6 hasta el dia en que
empez6 a deslizarse todo, tan sigilosamente, por las ventanas: la ropa blanca, el
incienso, las notas de Kitaro y todas las demis se pusieron en fila, dispuestas en su
march; creo que todo desapareci6 por las ventanas del frente rodeadas de hiedra; por
alit, tal vez fue por alli tambidn por donde se fue la mirada que retenfas en tus ojos, y tu
frente de luz, y el gesto suave con el que solias sonreir, porque allf me situaba yo,
muchos meses despues de la desaparici6n, a esperar el regreso; era algo intuitive, era un
radar doloroso que me iba llevando hasta la ventana de la derecha y alit me quedaba tan
quieta, esperando el regreso con una angustia que se hacia silencio; vi, literalmente, el
mecanismo del paso del tiempo; vi el espacio atravesado por la lluvia; vi la nieve
desvalida, cayendo, enfriando todo tal vez a pesar suyo, humedeciendolo todo con su
paso; y vi, literalmente, el no regreso; y vi, literalmente, el moment en que las
ventanas y las puertas y las paredes encerraban un vacfo; y vi, literalmente, el moment
en que la otra voz era s61o el sonido de mi propia voz; y vi, literalmente, el moment en
que los pass que golpeaban la madera, eran el eco de mis propios pasos y nada mis y
punto y silencio y ausencia, hasta que se fue de mi, sin movimiento casi,
imperceptiblemente casi, sin avisarlo casi, el radar doloroso que me impulsaba hacia la
ventana, y deje de esperar; por aquel tiempo, empec6 a dar unos pasos torpes, escaleras
abajo, en lo que era mas bien una estrecha galerfa escalonada, y en el descanso, a la
izquierda, inmediatamente despues de la puerta del apartamento, el Erasmo que tantos
afios atras habia pintado Holbein y que ahora cubria todo el espacio de un enorme
afiche que insistentemente anunciaba: Piermont Morgan Library, abril 21 -julio 30; me
reafinnaba la mirada de Erasmo: si, era hora de empezar a andar, era hora de saber que
el dolor depositado en el Area lumbar com6 un sablazo que se apoderaba tambi6n de la
pierna derecha, era un recordatorio de que algo se nos rompe dentro, de que algo se nos
rompe, mientras que se nos sigue exigiendo-es la ley del cosmos, es la ley de la rueda
del tiempo,-que continuemos andando, con o sin piezas de repuesto, manteniendo tan
cercamente, tan cerca de las ventanas del coraz6n, un saco vacio; Erasmo estaba alli,
con su mirada esquinada puesta allt por las manos de Holbein, cuyo l6timo retoque
termin6 tal vez, un dia en que hacia frio, en que la iluvia cafa helada, en que la nieve,
enfriaba todo a pesar suyo, humedeciendolo todo con su paso; fue entonces cuando me
decide al descenso, apoyindome en el pasamanos, asegurindome de que el pie, al
descender, no cala falsamente en el vaclo; en el tramo mis bajo de las escaleras, unos
pass mas y ya la puerta de salida; fue entonces cuando comenz6 esa blsqueda
esporddica, desordenada, desapasionada y casi ajena, en el asfalto, en las ventanas del
tren que rugia en el vientre de la tierra; algo que pudiera recoger sin que nadie viera que
en ese gesto tan aparentemente ingenuo de mi mano, se escondia el hambre, esa
Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
vergaenza que nos trae el abandon, esa vergtenza que nos trae la desaparici6n de todo
lo que amamos, de todo eso en que una vez fuimos, una desaparici6n que nos dej6
incapaces de encontrarnos a nosotros mismos, porque asf sucedi6, al regreso de esa
march asistemitica, supe y me di cuenta de que en aquel apartamento, cuando se abria
la puerta al movimiento giratorio de mi mano, no entraba nadie; mis pies caminaban
escondidos en sus tenis, pero ya no sostenlan mi arquitectura interior, ali no habia
nadie, nada, s61o aquellos manojos vegetables que arrancaba tan secret y
asistemiticamente, la vaporizaci6n en la mesa de donde habia desaparecido el humo de
jazmines y despu6s, absorber todo aquello por las uflas, pero el hambre segufa allf y
tambien el vacfo, el saco vacio, tan cerca del coraz6n; y fie entonces cuando empec6 a
devorarlo todo: dos cafeteras italianas, una pequefia y otra, con capacidad para ocho
tazas, las tablas sueltas de un librero sostenidas por tres columns de ladrillos, un
chinero que estaba, exactamente, en la cocina y desde donde veiamos, a trav6s de las
vitrinas, nuestras tazas mas queridas, y el bargueflo que me regalaste, con su tapa
serpenteante, rodante; todo esto entire cuatro paredes, la puerta cerrada y el ins61ito
asombro: la persistencia del hambre; asistemiticamente, en las galerfas de la avenida
Madison, busque sin que me vieran, algunas races, tub6rculos, hojas, detris de los
cuadros de Francis Bacon, de Botero, de las esculturas de More: todo estaba limpio, ni
una hoja; volvi al asfalto, a las ventanas del tren, a los rafles, s61o para convencerme de
que estas forms de vida, tan escasas y tan poco variadas, habian dejado de existir por
desinterds, por falta de incentive; fue entonces cuando me adentr6 en la estaci6n
profimda y esper6 el tren, el subway-tren, el subte-sub, subsuelo-tren, subtenrrneo, y
abrl la boca para hacerla enorme, inmensa, infinite, inmedible, incalculable, y tragarme
todos los vagones, el primero, con su luz a un lado de la frente y sus letras, IRT, con
destino a cualquier part, de Manhattan a Sunnyside, de Manhattan a cualquier parte; la
boca se me abri6 como un universe y se fue cerrando poco a poco ante la promesa del
hambre: nada llenaria este vacio; y me fui tragando aquel ruido, solamente el ruido,
come un hilo delgado de estridencia que cay6 en mi vacio, como un relimpago; el tren
habia pasado con sus vagones y sus gentes colgando en las manillas; fue un paso
vertiginoso e inaccesible, fue una ruidosa, deshumanizada velocidad; me encogi de
hombros, subi las escaleras, sali por la boca del tnmel; la tarde estaba fria, muy fria, y
yo, con cara de ingenuidad y de inocencia para que nadie notara el abandon; me dije
confiadamente, certeramente, que la bfsqueda se habia prolongado por un afio y cuatro
mess y que todo estaba igual: el saco vacio pegado tan pegadamente al coraz6n, la
vaciedad del alma que habia decidido alojarse en todo el espacio comprendido entire la
garganta y el estomago; recorri algunas calls que me eran familiares y a la vez,
desconocidas; el frfo de la tarde era y despu6s fue siendo un frfo anochecido; empuje la
puerta del bar y todo qued6 atris; la hilera de banquetas persistia, paralela a la barra; a
mi lado, a la izquierda, una, dos, tres, cuatro banquetas vacias; en la quinta, una mujer
casi doblada sobre el mostrador, su mano abrazada a un ancho vaso que parecfa
contener ginebra; comenz6 a mirarme y la reconocf: habfa participado como yo en
algunas de esas reunions pseudoliterarias en que un grupo-siempre el
mismo,-leiamos poemas a otro grupo que tambien era siempre el mismo; sabia yo su
nombre y lo sabia bien, pero a mi mente venia el sobrenombre de la Flaca, que surgi6
nuevo, en ese precise moment, o tal vez vino a mi como una persistencia de esa
memorial que no siempre nos result localizable; enderez6 en lo que pudo sus hombros
cargados, se separ6 un poco de la barra; su gesto, una mezcla de lento desparpajo y
desvalimiento: desde hace ocho afios te estoy esperando, la of decir, si, ocho afios con
esta obsesi6n a cuestas, hasta que no pude mas y fui a verte al hospital y alli me
convenci, cuando te habl6 por tantas horas de cosas ajenas, de cosas que nada tenian
que ver con este moment de ahora que tenfa que llegar, hablamos del hueco que te
abrieron en la espalda, el disco lumbar, que tan biol6gicamente mencionaste, y yo habl6
incansablemente de mi divorcio, de mi divorcio por venir, y len6 la habitaci6n con todo
eso que nada tenia que ver con lo que queria decirte; su voz era extrafla, sumamente
extrafa, casi nasal, y como si al salir, recibiera golpetazos, martillazos, desde la
garganta que remataba con un empuj6n de la lengua; su cuerpo, arqueado como el de la
planchadora de Picasso; me tom6 de la mano, caminamos hasta la piquera de taxis a
pesar de mi protest de que muy pronto me irla, de que en unos meses me iria a cumplir
la invitaci6n que me vino en un aviso del New York Times: "en un pafs lejano
necesitamos a alguien con sus cualificaciones," unas cualificaciones que no me
interesaba tener, pero que en esa ocasi6n especifica me ponian a la cabeza de los
invitados; termini dejAndome Ilevar de su mano, siguiendo su voz extraia: estos meses
conmigo te servirin para no irte sola, me servirin para no quedarme sola; tomamos un
taxi que nos llev6 a Astoria; el apartamento en plant baja, claro y acogedor, rociado
con la voz de la nifia migica, con su encanto total, con su sabidurfa incredible y a quien
tantas veces, semanas despu6s, oirfa preguntar desde la bafladera mamr, mamA, y ese
silencio? es que te estis casando?; esta visit definitive nos inici6 en el habito de
recorrer la ciudad, de caminarla a veces con la nifla entire las dos, cada una de sus
manos apretada entire las nuestras, y nos ibamos a recorrer el Village; otras veces nos
fbamos sin la nifla en aventuras que incluian la visit al Jacques Marchais Center for
Tibetan Art en Staten Island donde vimos una funci6n del Yueh Lung Shadow Theatre
con varias representaciones: "The two friends," "The Crane and the Tortoise," "The
Mountain of Fiery Tongues"; el South Street Seaport con sus calls de adoquines y el
fuerte olor del Fulton Fish Market; atravesar el puente de Brooklyn, ir al Kabuki, a
alg6n museo de Manhattan o armarnos de mantas, libros y una merienda y pasarnos
horas en Central Park, buscando siempre la esquina donde se estacionaba un cantante
negro, un cantante callejero que cantaba canciones nostilgicas en francs,
acompafilndose de su guitarra; los dfas soleados de fines de marzo comenzaron a traer
una alegria con su tumulto de caminatas, cenas en distintos restaurants, alguna
pelicula, y al regreso, la nifla migica con sus histories y su imaginaci6n tan fabuloma, y
yo tambien con mis histories y los cuentos que yo le lefa en alta voz y los programs de
television que comentibamos tan seriamente y todo el encanto y toda la alegria de esa
pequefla maga hasta que por fin la vencia el suefo y era hora d acostarse en su
pequefla cama rodeada de juguetes, y la noche saltaba entonces a una taza de
manzanilla, a un bomb6n Lady Godiva, al humo del incienso, a la mtsica de Kitaro que
otra vez servia de fondo; la habitaci6n en la esquina, la luz de los faroles de la calle, el
Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
ruido de carros esporadicos, todo filtrandose en la habitaci6n, filtrandose en la delgadez
de aquella mujer, sumAndose a su temura, a su amor enloquecido, viendola cabalgar la
noche que la hacia casi hermosa, casi tan hermosa, casimente hermosa; se poetizaba su
cuerpo desgarbado, la anchura de mi cuerpo,--escult6rica, como decias,-hasta que nos
sorprendia el amanecer; un dia imprevisto tal vez, empez6 a visitarte el olvido, el olvido
de que nuestro pacto eterno duraria exactamente, aproximadamente, casimente, unos
meses; un olvido que empez6 a vigilar mis pasos, mi andar, mi voz, la direcci6n de mis
pupilas; ese olvido creci6 hasta tus manos, en tus manos, desde tus manos para asirse a
mi; para crecer en los mismos rincones donde tambi6n crecia tu generosidad de pantera
enflaquecida que ronda la noche, y nunca dije, no fui capaz de hacerlo, de mi ternura,
cuando me reclamabas en una violencia apache, en tus escenas de celos apasionados y
gratuitos, porque sabia yo, sabia perfectamente y bien, que desde tu muchedumbre de
huesos de ahora, gritaba tu nifiez de 9 aflos, punto exacto en que los milicianos hicieron
desaparecer a tu madre para esconderla en una carcel por cinco aflos, el punto exacto en
que hicieron desaparecer a tu padre para esconderlo en otra cArcel, por diez aflos; y te
quedaste sola, rodando de casa en casa, rodando de desamor en desamor, rodando de
abandon en abandon, en Santiago, antigua capital de Oriente, donde sufriste el
castigo de ser hija de unos padres bautizados con el nombre de contrarrevolucionarios;
y vi, literalmente, alargarse tu piel de pantera, brillar en la oscuridad; vi, literalmente,
que se alargaba tu pena como una larga piel de leopardo; vi, literalmente, cuando te
enroscabas en mi, por mi, hacia mi, en llanto, en dolor, en ternura, en olvido de un
pacto de tiempo fragmentado, para que me acompafies, recuerdas? para que te
acompafle; para que no me vaya sola, recuerdas? para que no te quedes sola; todo
ocurri6 una maflana, muy de mafiana; estabas en la sala, exactamente en el marco de
una puerta y empez6 a emanar de ti un quejido que se hizo agua, corriente de-agua,
violencia de agua, vertiginosidad de agua que lo llenaba todo, que lo arrastraba todo,
que pasaba por el Angulo de tus piernas, por el espacio abierto de tus brazos, a travds de
tu cuerpo inm6vil, fijo siempre en el marco de la puerta; hasta que la corriente de agua
se hizo dolida, mansa, quieta, y te hiciste sol; qued6 todo seco, en una quietud de
limpieza; salimos para el aeropuerto y me viste desaparecer al golpe de la voz: vuelo
SAA 202 con destino a Johannesburg; era julio entonces, un dia doce
Translated by Susan Griffin
We Could Call It Flight 202
from the novel entitled The Definitive Death of Peter the Long
the bar was dark, smoky, the darkness beat at the colours of the Tiffany lamps which set
off a bombardment of colours red-ruby, yellow-yellow, green-emerald; one of the
stools, tall, much taller than my legs, propped me there, seated at the bar, in front of the
Grand Manier with its orange colour and taste of oranges and the passion of alcohol and
almost protective distance in this year which could be 1920 but which was more likely
1985, when I was woman and I fed myself on carrots and vegetables that sprouted
stealthily from the pavements, from the windows of some subway, from the railway
tracks, from the prow of some ship; I would go out, till an indeterminate hour, to comb
for the presence of any leaf, a stalk of celery, which I detest, something nourishing, and
then the painful process began, to inject this into my fingernails, making it vanish first,
invisibilizing it, making the carbohydrates invisible, the chlorophyll, some protein lost
in the small mound of vegetable, nourishment, one could say, vaporised, trained,
watching it travel the length of the nail until it is lost from sight beneath the cuticles and
to feel it move then, eventually, to the flow of some current of blood; all this always
took place in absolute secrecy in the kitchen in Sunnyside, in the top-floor apartment as
high as the ivy that grew up from the ground floor to cover the brick facade complete
with windows and through which I once saw the hosts fly, the ones the ethereal woman
and I consumed; she created a temple with the music of Mozart and Beethoven, with
incense, with a few translucent, white doves which, at the hour of meditation,
transferred their movement to the music of Kitaro and halted their flight, pausing, with
their wings outstretched in that small sitting-room into which was crowded all of Lhasa,
Potala, and the white clothing that covered us, those loose, straight shirts and those
wide trousers, tied at the waist, that allowed us to form, almost perfectly, the lotus
flower, in that profound, silent silence, the wheel, that chakra, the star, which turned on
its point of light in the very center of our forehead and from this turning point we
departed to ascend to the Master although we knew that we would not yet be allowed to
meet him, we only reached Mount Abu from whose heights we contemplated other
mountains, to allow the clouds to hit us in the face with their health, with their humid
liberation, with their already free reality, although we knew that there was more, much
more, of the inaccessible heights where density did not exist and Awhere, for the
moment, entry was denied us; with the last note of Silk Road, we returned to our
forehead, to the point of light energized by the meditation and then we wandered
through that apartment with wooden floors, with its brick facade hugged by the ivy in
which I once counted up to ten windows, one long passage, two bedrooms and various
other rooms; there, through that subdivided space, we wandered with our white clothes
and we told ourselves that the light resided in us; at other times we seated ourselves,
face to face, always in lotus position, and we gave ourselves drishti, the transmission of
energy through corresponding invisible vessels: the looks we exchanged; until energy
beat against our pupils and ran across our faces, liquid, intense, until something touched
the chakra of our hearts letting us know that it was the hour of peace, that we could
wander calmly, in our white clothes, to each of the corners of this ivy house, to each of
the corners of this house of windows, until, in the kitchen, seated at the table made of
glass and white iron, we drank jasmine tea that made us wear a mask of humid steam
and aroma, and it all lasted until the day everything began to slip away, stealthily, out of
the windows: the white clothes, the incense, the sounds of Kitaro and everything else
lined up, ready to move out; I think that maybe everything disappeared out of the front
windows surrounded by ivy, through there, perhaps that was also where the look you
Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
kept in your eyes went, and your forehead of light, and the smooth movement with
which you used to smile, because that was where I stood for many months after your
disappearance; it was somehow intuitive, it was a painful magnet that was drawing me
to the window on the right and that was where I sat so still, awaiting your return with an
anguish that became silence; I saw, literally, the mechanism of the passage of time; I
watched space crossed by the rain; I watched the feeble snow, falling, freezing
everything, perhaps despite itself, drenching everything in its path; and I watched,
literally, the non-return; and I saw, literally, the moment when the windows and the
doors and the walls enclosed an empty space; and I witnessed, literally, the moment
when the other voice was only the sound of my own voice; and I saw, literally, the
moment in which the footsteps which trod the wood, were the echo of my own footsteps
and nothing more and full stop and silence and absence, until one day it left me, with
hardly any movement, almost imperceptibly, with hardly any warning, that painful
magnet that drew me to the window, and I stopped waiting; around that time I tried
some clumsy steps on the stairway, which was more of a narrow passage descending in
terraces, and in the landing, to the left, immediately after the door to the apartment, was
the Erasmus that Holbein had painted so many years before and that announced
insistently: Piermont Morgan Library, April 21 July 30; Erasmus's look reaffirmed
me: yes, it was the moment to begin to walk, the moment to know that the pain
deposited in the lumbar region like a sword slash that had also caught the right leg, was
a reminder that something inside us breaks, that we break, while it is expected of
us-it's the law of the cosmos, it's the law of the wheel of time--that we continue
walking, with or without spare parts, keeping so closely, so close to the windows on the
heart, an empty sack; Erasmus was right there, with his skewed look placed there by
Holbein's hands, whose last brush stroke ended, perhaps one cold day, when the rain
fell frozen, when the snow froze everything despite itself, drenching everything in its
path; it was then that I committed myself to the descent, leaning on the balustrade,
making sure that my foot, as it descended, didn't fall into space by mistake; on the
lowest flight of stairs, a few steps away from the exit; it was then that the sporadic
search began, disorganised, dispassionate and even alien, on the asphalt, in the windows
of the train that roared in the belly of the earth; something that I could pick up without
anyone seeing that, in that apparently so ingenuous movement of my hand, I hid my
hunger, that shame which abandonment brings, that shame brought on by the
disappearance of everything that we love, of everything that we once were, a
disappearance that leaves us incapable of finding ourselves, because that is how it
happened, returning from this haphazard march, I knew and I realized that into that
apartment, when the door opened to the circular movement of my hand, no-one went in:
my feet walked hidden in their sneakers, but they no longer supported my interior
architecture; there was no-one there, nothing, only these bunches of vegetables that I
pulled up so secretly and haphazardly, the vaporization at the table from which the
steam of jasmine had disappeared and then, to absorb all of this through my nails, but
my hunger continued unabated and the emptiness too, the empty sack, so close to my
heart; and it was then when I began to devour everything: two Italian coffeepots, one
small and the other with an eight cup capacity, the loose shelves of a bookcase
supported by three columns of bricks, a china cupboard which was, precisely, in the
kitchen and in which we could see, behind the glass, our best loved cups, and the
bureau that you gave me, with its roll-back top; all of this in the privacy of my own
home, behind closed doors and the unexpected surprise: my hunger persisted;
haphazardly, in the art galleries on Madison Avenue, I searched without being seen for
a few roots, tubers, leaves, behind the paintings by Francis Bacon, by Botero, the
sculptures by More: everything was clean, not a leaf, I returned to the asphalt, to the
train windows, to the railings, if only to convince myself that these life forms, so scarce
and of little variety, had ceased to exist through disinterest, through a lack of incentive;
it was then that I descended to that deepest station and waited for the train, the subway
train, the subte-sub, the below-earth train, subterranean, and I opened my mouth so as to
make it enormous, immense, infinite, immeasurable, incalculable, and to swallow all
the wagons, the first wagon with its light to one side of its forehead and its letters, IRT,
destination anywhere, from Manhattan to Sunnyside, from Manhattan to wherever, my
mouth opened like a universe and it began closing little by little when faced with the
promise of hunger: nothing would fill this space; and I began swallowing that noise, just
the noise, like a thin thread of commotion that fell into my emptiness, like a bolt of
lightening; the train with its wagons and its people hanging from the straps had passed;
it was a dizzy and inaccessible passage, it was a noisy, dehumanised speed; I shrugged,
climbed the stairs, left through the mouth of the tunnel; the afternoon was cold, very
cold, and I, wearing an expression of ingenuousness and innocence so that nobody
would notice my abandonment; and I told myself confidently, with certainty, that the
search had lasted one year and four months and that everything was the same: the
empty sack stuck so closely to my heart, the emptiness of my soul that had decided to
move into all the space between my throat and my stomach; I walked along a few
streets that were familiar and, at the same time, unknown; the afternoon was cold and
this turned into the cold of night; I pushed open the door to a bar and everything stayed
behind; the line of stools was still there, parallel to the bar counter; at my side, on the
left, one, two, three, four empty stools; on the fifth, a woman almost doubled over the
counter, her hand hugging a tall glass that seemed to contain gin; she turned to look at
me and I recognized her she had taken part, just as I had, in some of those pseudo
literary meetings in which a group of us-always the same people-read our poetry to
the other group that was also always the same; I knew her name and I knew it well, but
the only thing that came to mind was the nickname, Skinny, that appeared as if new, in
that precise moment, or perhaps it came to me like the remainder of a memory that we
can't always place; she straightened her tensed shoulders as much as she was able,
moved slightly away from the bar; her movement, a mixture of slow self-confidence
and helplessness: I have been waiting for you for eight years, I heard her say, yes, eight
years of carrying around this obsession, until I couldn't bear it any more and I went to
see you in the hospital and there I convinced myself, when I spoke to you for so many
hours about unrelated things, about things that had nothing to do with this moment right
now that had to arrive, we spoke about the hole that they had opened in your back, your
Creative Writing by Mireya Robles
lumbar disk, that you mentioned so biologically, and I spoke endlessly about my
divorce, about my upcoming divorce, and I filled the room with all that had nothing to
do with what I wanted to say to you; her voice was strange, extremely strange, almost
nasal, and as if, on the way out of her throat, it received hard blows, hammer blows,
followed by a thrust of the tongue; her body, bent over like Picasso's ironing woman;
she took my hand, we walked to the taxi rank despite my protest that I would be leaving
to take up the invitation that arrived for me in a notice in the New York Times: "in a far
away country we need somebody with your qualifications," qualifications that I had
never cared about, but which in this particular case placed me at the head of all those
invited; I ended up letting myself be led by the hand, following her strange voice: these
months with me will help you not to feel alone when you leave, they will help me not to
feel alone when I stay behind; we took a taxi which took us to Astoria; the apartment
was on the ground floor, light and welcoming, sprinkled with the voice of the magic
child, with her absolute charm, with her incredible wisdom and whom I would hear, so
many times, weeks later, ask from the bath: Mommy, Mommy, and this silence? are
you getting married?; this definitive visit started us on the habit of touring the city, of
walking through it sometimes with the child between the two of us, each of her hands
held tightly by ours, and we would walk around the Village; at other times we went on
adventures without the little girl, these included a visit to the Jacques Marchais Center
for Tibetan Art on Staten Island where we watched a performance by the Yueh Lung
Shadow Theatre with several plays: "The Two Friends," "The Crane and the Tortoise,"
"The Mountain of Fiery Tongues"; the South Street Seaport with its cobbled streets and
strong smell of the Fulton Fish Market; to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, to go to the
Kabuki, to some Manhattan museum or to arm ourselves with blankets, books and
snacks and to spend hours in Central Park, always looking for the corner where the
Black singer would stand, a busker that sang nostalgic songs in French, accompanying
himself with his guitar, the sunny days at the end of March bringing with them
happiness in their maelstrom of walks, dinners in different restaurants, a movie and,
upon our return, that magic child with her stories and her fabulous imagination, and I
too with my stories and the tales that I read aloud to her and the programmes on
television that we discussed with such seriousness and all the charm and the joy of that
small enchantress until she was finally overcome with sleep and it was time to put her
to bed in her tiny bed surrounded by toys, and the night then jumped to a cup of
camomile, to a Lady Godiva chocolate, to the smoke of incense, to the music of Kitaro
that, once again, provided the background; the room in the corner, the light from the
street lamps, the noise of an occasional car, all filtering into the room, filtering into the
woman's leanness, adding itself to her tenderness, to her wild love, watching her riding
the night that made her almost beautiful, almost so beautiful, nearly beautiful; her
homely body became poetry, as did the breadth of my body,-sculptual as you
said,--until sunrise surprised us; one unexpected day, perhaps, forgetfulness began to
call on you, the forgetfulness that our eternal pact would last exactly, approximately,
nearly, a few months; a forgetfulness that began to watch my every step, my walk, my
voice, the direction of my pupils; this forgetfulness stretched to your hands, into your
hands, from your hands to grab hold of me; in order to grow in the very comers where
your generosity, like that of a lean panther that prowls at night, grew, and I never spoke,
I was unable to do so, of my tenderness, when you reclaimed me with the violence of a
Parisian Tango, in your passionate and gratuitous jealous scenes, because I knew, knew
perfectly and knew well, that from your pile of bones, today, there shouted your
childhood of nine years, the exact point at which the militiamen made your mother
disappear in order to hide her in a prison for five years, the exact point at which they
made your father disappear to hide him in another prison, for ten years; and you were
left on your own, wandering from house to house, wandering from unlove to unlove,
wandering from abandonment to abandonment, in Santiago, old capital of the Oriente
Province, where you paid the price for being the daughter of parents baptised with the
name of counter-revolutionaries; and I watched as your panther skin literally stretched,
glowing in the dark; I saw, literally, that your pain stretched like the long skin of a
leopard; I saw, literally, when you would coil around me, for me, towards me, in tears,
in pain, in tenderness, in forgetfulness of a pact on fragmented time, to keep me
company, remember? to keep you company; so that I wouldn't feel alone when I left,
remember? so that you wouldn't feel alone when you stayed behind; it all happened one
morning, very early; you were in the sitting-room, framed in the centre of a doorway
and a moan began to emanate from you which turned into water, currents of water,
violent water, whirling water that filled everything, that pulled at everything, that
flowed through the angle formed by your legs, through the open space of your arms,
through your immobile body, always framed in the doorway; until the flow of water
became hurt, docile, still, and you became sun; everything dried out, in a cleansed
quietness; we left for the airport and you watched me disappear at the sound of the
voice: flight SAA 202 to Johannesburg; it was July then, the twelfth thereof
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
Thanks for the money you sent me the other day. I am always happy to hear
from you. I am so lonely, and sometimes I feel like if I had the chance, I would just...
well, I know you going say don't talk like that, but it hard Mummy, it hard. I heard
from the lawyer, and he say that some docket or something coming up for review soon
and I should hear from him within a few days. That is almost a week ago now, but you
know how it go with him.
Most of the other people here don't speak English, and I can't really talk to
them, so I spend a lot of time reading and writing. I write to a whole heap of people
who I don't see this long time. Remember how I never used to like write letters? Well,
everyday now is somebody else hear from me-good thing I get to keep my address
book, and you must remember to send those other addresses I ask you to get for me. I
have one for Grandma, down in the country, but it don't look right. All I have is:
Mrs. Odalis Constantine
Hog Fruit Hill
That don't seem like enough. Check on it for me please.
A couple other Jamaicans are here. Two are in my block. One name Mikey
Dread and another one named Slipe Road. My roommate is a Russian guy; him not
bad, kind of quiet. The guards little rough with us sometimes, especially this one we
call Overseer, a big black guy who look like a wrestler. Slipe Road say that Overseer
working at Krome because it give him somebody to boss over for a change.
Everyday I pray, Mummy, that they don't send me back home. I don't know
what I would do. Everything down there so expensive, and all you keep hearing is that
somebody shoot up somebody else and that they laying off people left, right and center.
Mikey Dread say he has a cousin who buy a six year old Toyota Corolla down there,
and you know how much it cost him? Over $15,000 US, you can imagine! I can't go
down there Mummy, I can't go. Try see what you can work out with the lawyer and tell
him how I feeling desperate.
Okay Mummy, I gone again. And remember to try and send a little something
for me. You know that you are one of the only people who really love me.
Subject: Philip the fart!
How you doing? Listen to me, you would not believe who I hear from the
other day. Remember Philip Constantine, the one who I started going out with just
before the end of senior year in high school? Well my dea, the other day Mummy
called me to say she had a letter for me. Of course I am wondering who the hell would
be writing to me at my mother's all the way in Brooklyn when I've been living in the
Bronx now for years. Anyway, I was going to ask her to open it and something tell me
to just wait and pick it up. Nub that old fart Philip have the nerve to write me! After all
Girl, Philip get himself in one piece of mix-up and... listen, have to run, need
to go and take notes in a meeting.
Subject: Re: Philip the fart!
We never went to school with no Philip. Who you talking about?
I spoke to the lawyer yesterday, and he says that there have been some delays
with your case. He is trying to work on something for early next week, but he is not
sure when it will come through. He says that the cases are prioritized and that the
recent arrival of some Cubans has set your docket further back. He also says that he
will need another $3,000 before your case is called.
Philip, I am trying my best. Apart from the weekend job, I am doing a little
something in the days before I go to work. I take care of an old lady. The woman's son
has an exotic car company (you would like that I bet!), Goldbourne's Imports, it is right
off the Schenectady Causeway, have you seen it before? They have no ends of money,
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
but his wife don't want the mother around, you know how those people stay. Imagine,
after all a mother do for her children for them turn they back to her in her last days.
What a shame. Anyway, I have told him of our plight, and he said he would see what
he can do. I don't know what that means, but let us wait and see.
With regards to your grandmother's address, you know we have not really
been in touch since she tried to keep you children from coming to live with me. She is
a crazy old woman-mad, just like the rest of your father's family! She went on so
badly when I was finally able to take you children to the States to live with me and to
give you a chance to make it in life. I don't why she was so much against you moving
to America... anyhow, that address you have is what I have from her too from long
time. I am sure she don't have anywhere to move to, and if anything had happen to her,
your chatty, chatty Aunt Birdie would be sure to tell me (she's another one mad like
your grandmother). Your sister keeps in touch with Mama, so you could see if she has
Okay son, take care of yourself. I will let you know as soon as the lawyer calls
P.S. I was only able to send $30.00 to you spending account. I had to make up my
mortgage this week. I can't believe you have to buy your own food in there. It is an
Subject: Re: Philip the fart!
I don't know how long I can stay at this place. Imagine, I prepared everything Mr.
Barnes asked me to get together for this meeting, including a spreadsheet showing the
comparative sales in EACH product category! Nadine, the spreadsheet reached from
here to New Jersey! I never went home last night till after ten, you hear me, ten, and,
after all of this, Mr. Barnes asked me if I could make transparencies for his
presentation! Imagine, me on my secretary salary must do all this while his executive
assistant is sitting around the office looking pretty. Nadine, you don't know how I'm
sorry I didn't finish college. You never did a better thing than when you went back to
Anyway, you don't remember Philip? He never went to PS 153 with us, but I
went out with him near the end of senior year and part of my first semester in college. I
don't even think he finished high school, he was working at that pizza place on Utica
Avenue, near to me. Anyhow, he is the one who I borrowed the money for, I'm sure
you remember that.
Subject: Re: Philip the fart!
Oh yes, Pretty Boy Phil, how could I forget. He was the one involved with the financial
aid mix-up right? I remember him now. So what he wrote you to say?
P.S. Kiss Priscilla for me.
Ayy Philip me son,
What a way you throw way you old granny. I can't hear from you atall atall.
Anyhow, them say that blood is thicker than water, especially salt water. Yes, you
letter reach me safe and sound; you granny not going nowhere. You could of even just
put only me name and the parish and it would get to me. Not a sole at the post office
don't know Miss Oda from Hog Fruit Hill. Well, you see how you go to Foreign an
mash up yourself. Foreign frighten people bad bad. All of you expect say you going
able sit down on you backside and get things easy, easy. Well, now you know is not so
it go. You mother never please with me when she come to take you children to live
with her in New York. I did hide way you birth papers an travel documents cause I
think you should stay an finish high school. I didn't mine say Marjorie was going to
leave, but I never want Marjorie to feel that I did love you more so I had to secret away
both of you papers. I know say you sister was going be okay, bless she sole how she
make something of sheself, but I did want you get some Jamaica schooling in you, tuff
up you backbone, before you have to go contend with all the temptashun in Merica. I
never want you turn worthless like you father. Yes, he is my own pickney, but I have to
call a spade a spade. Anyway, old time people say, what gone bad a morning, can't fix
a evening time, so I just have to try do what I can do to help you given the
circumstance. Now you should know better than to think say I have money can send
for you. Where a poor old granny like meselfmust get foreign money from? You
know say this old lady survive threw the grace of God almighty and help from those out
of me eleven pickney who never turn worthless like you father. Anyway, next week I
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
going down to Ortanique Gap to see a man an find out what we can do to help you out.
So in the mean time you must hold the faith.
Subject: Re: Philip the fart!
Well my dear, he apparently got mixed up in this whole drug thing.
Something about cargo coming through the Miami International Airport-I'm not sure
of the details. Anyhow, there was a big STING operation, and he got caught. So now
he is in Krome, down there in Florida, and he has been thinking over his life and all the
mistakes he made and he feels that leaving me was the worse thing he did, apart from
getting into the wrong company. He says he knows I won't want anything to do with
him, but he just had to let me know. Nadine, I was so shocked. What you think?
University of California, Department of Marine Biology
Dr. Marjorie Constantine-Lewis
Enclosed is a check for $1,000.00. I want you to know that the only reason I
am doing this is for you. Yes, he is my only brother, but we are just a year apart, and he
has had the same opportunities as I have. Look at how you begged him to stay in high
school, then to keep a job, and then to stay out of trouble, but of course he had to do
things his way. While I was struggling out of bed in below zero degree weather to
catch the train from Brooklyn to Long Island so I could reach to Hunters on time, where
was Philip? Fast asleep!
Now, when you should be enjoying life, you are driving from home clear to
Midtown to the old lady you take care of and then back over to Mt. Sinai--this is not to
mention the weekend job! I don't know when you get to sleep. Mummy, I know you
love us both and that you have tried your best, but you spoiled him, Mummy. He got
away with so much, and here it has now come back to haunt all of us. Anyway, you
hold on to this and spend it as you please (although I know where it will be going).
Things are a little tight with us now-the new house and the baby coming all at
once-and I have a personal loan to pay back to a friend. Additionally, I just returned
to work this week (as a matter of fact I am writing you from work), and I am adjusting
to the new nanny we got (she struggles with her English and me with Spanish). In any
case, I will see what I can do in another few weeks. Also, I really appreciated your
taking time off to come out and see us last month when I had the baby. Remember, you
are always welcomed.
Anyway, try and get some rest, and we'll talk over the weekend.
P.S. Please ask Philip to stop writing me with his hard luck stories and to stop trying to
call me collect! Tell him I will be in Florida for a conference in about a week, and I
will try to see him then.
Please make sure that the baby's milk is warmed all the way through but is no
caliente. If he starts to cry, you can give him a drop or two of that gripe water beside
the toaster. Mi abuela sent it from Jamaica and says that it is very good.
Also, please be sure that you spend time reading to him-lei mucho-and
remember not to pick him up every time he cries. Mr. Lewis will probably get home
before me tonight, but I should see you tomorrow evening.
IN THE COUNTY COURT,
IN AND FOR
DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA
CASE NUMBER 87-3058 CC29
Philip Alexander Constantine
Comes now the State of Florida and hereby charges the defendant Philip Alexander
Constantine ("Defendant") with the following crimes against the state.
Count 1-Conspiracy to Import Narcotics
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
Defendant is hereby charged with the felony of conspiracy to import narcotics.
Defendant entered into an agreement with another person to illegally import prohibited
narcotic substances into the State of Florida.
Count 2-Aiding and Abetting
Defendant is hereby charged with the crime of conspiracy to aid and abet a felon in the
commission of the crime set forth in count one of this complaint.
Count 3-Aggravated Assault
Defendant is hereby charged with the crime of aggravated assault. Defendant attempted
to use illegal force on another person with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and/or
do great bodily harm to said individual.
Count 4-Resisting Arrest
Defendant is hereby charged with the crime of resisting arrest. Upon his identification
by police officers the Defendant attempted to flee from the police and otherwise resist
Subject: Philip the sly!
Listen girl, don't believe one piece of bullshit coming from that Philip. You know what
they say, "when trouble take you, pickney boot fit you." Philip will resort to anything
now; he has nothing to lose by getting you to feel sorry for him. Don't forget, this is the
same Philip who borrowed your Pell grant money PLUS made you get a student loan so
you could give him money to fix his car. If I remember right, you told me that you
didn't even get a chance to drive in the car after it was fixed because he dropped out of
sight. And after all these years it is just now he's getting in touch with you to say hi-I
don't think so! Remember how you bawled down the place when you couldn't pay for
your books that semester or even find train fare and how your father was so vex he cuss
you off? Keep away!
From: mvramiller nBamesAssoc.com
Subject: Re: Philip the sly!
Is true Nadine, but he isn't really asking for anything. He just wanted to say that he's
sorry and that he thinks of me all the time. You really can't hold that against him.
Okay, I have to run... need to finish up a memo for Mr. Barnes. Another day, another
Morning Miss Oda,
This is the thing you come see me about the other day for you grandson who is cross the
waters. Tell him to divide up the powder and bathe in it for 3 nights straight, and on the
fourth day when him see morning start break, him must put on all white clothes (even
Now Miss Oda, you know how these things work, and you must impress on him say it
is of ultimate importance say him do what I instruct.
God's richest blessing on you.
By the way, Miss Oda, you may have difficult getting this to him in powder form (I
hear how those Yankee people suspect anything come from Jamaica). Let me suggest,
Maam, that you melt down some soap, mix it in, and then form back up the soap.
Subject: Re: Philip the sly!
What you say Philip ask you to do? Listen to me, you must be crazy. Where you going
to find money to help pay his lawyer! I knew this was coming. Look, don't open up
anymore letters from him, you hear me. You can barely manage taking care of yourself
and Priscilla. Her father only gives you money when he feels like and you should know
by now that he is not leaving his wife.
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
You need to get your life together and go back to school.
WAKE UP MYRA!
THAN The stuff of life
THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US!
1-3 PACK HANES UNDWR WH
1 ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHIRT WH
1 RUGGED CLIMBER PANTS WH
1-6 PACK TUBE SOCKS- WH
Buenos Dias Seflora Marjorie,
Today I aceptar collect call from your brother. He say you lost your credit card and he
say you say it super important I send you to Florida some white clothes para un
hombre ... and those magazines. He say is matter of life and death! Dios mio! He say
that I no tell el Seflor Lewis because the clothes is for your special friend (I get his
meaning seflora, and I no say nunca to Mr. Lewis!).
2 Honey & Spice magazine
@ 7.49 14.98
I not know what to do. I think, I pray-Ay Virgensita-I think, I pray more, and then I
use, as you say, discretion? So I go first the Kmart (wit baby) and then I look book
store (I no really like those place Mrs. Lewis, not right, as you say, environment for
baby). After, I go Express Federales and send things to your hotel-Hotel Krome
Center en Florida-sound like a fancy place seflora.
I use dinero emergencia in kitchen draw, but I hide receipt under microwave. I no want
no trouble for you with senior.
I hope I do thing correct and you have big fun in Florida. See you Monday.
Law Offices of
Ronald K. Burman P.A.
Attorneys and Counselors at Law
Dear Mr. Constantine,
I have received your numerous phone messages, and no, I am not hiding from you. As I
have explained to your mother, your sister, and your friend Myra, your plea bargain did
not state that you were immune from deportation, simply from serving time. And now
that you have handed over to the state the names of all your co-conspirators, we have
nothing to give us leverage.
This is what happens when you sign documents without the advice of an attorney!
There is nothing I can do to reverse that agreement, our only option is an appeal, which
I am pursuing.
I will let you know as soon as I have a date for a hearing.
RONALD K. BURMAN
FOR THE FIRM
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
I don't want to hear Philip's name again for the rest of my life! After I took the time
out from the conference to see his lawyer and visit Philip in that hellish Krome
Detention Center, you would not believe what that boy did!
Imagine, I carried a little fruit cake for him, a Khalil Gibran book (he is this really great
writer), I left spending money for him, and I even carried this funny smelling soap that
Mama sent for him, knowing that the guards might harass me. Well, this is it Mummy,
I don't care what happens to him and I mean it. Anyway, this check is to get your
phone turned back on. It is already made out to Bell Atlantic, so you can't use it for
anything else! Also, please put a collect call block on the phone so that Philip does not
run up your bill again by calling you collect! Call me as soon as the phone is back on,
and I will tell you in detail what your good-for-nothing son did this time-how he
called my house and conned my nanny into buying all sorts of things for him by telling
her the most damaging lies about me!
From: mvramillert BanesAssoc.com
Subject: Love at last?
What's going on? I just wanted to talk to somebody. Lord, Carlene, I think I've finally
found a guy who really cares about me; it's this guy I used to date in high school. Well,
my dear, he is in a little bit of a bind, he was set up by some friends of his, but, Carlene,
he is so sweet! He is a really deep guy, not like some of them around. He even quotes
Khalil Gibran to me in his letters! Anyway, tell me what you think.
From: fmukvaalm hnmailcom
Subject: Re: Love at last?
Girl, true love is hard to find, so when you get it, you have to hold on to it... but
anyway, I am doing okay, keeping myself looking good as usual :-). I just met a guy
myself, good looking you see girl, hmmm. Him and his wife not getting on so well and
so I been taking GOOD care of him when Winston is out of town! I know you may say
I'm a bad girl, but listen, is not anything them guys not doing!
So, how come you writing me? What happen to Miss Nadine? She too particular for
me, always going on like she better than other people. Just because she do the little
night class she think she hot. Anyhow, I gone. Winston promise to take me shopping
running mouth philip
boy you mek a big mistake.
you think is so you to street people who you work with over all these years. me just
want you know say dog nyam you supper. if you think we cant fine you, think agen.
see this letta reech you while you under uncle sam wing!
I don't know what to say. The lawyer just called to tell me about his meeting with you,
and I think I am still in shock.
My phone is back on but I only have local service. Please write me immediately.
Law Offices Of
Ronald K. Burman PA.
Attorneys and Counselors at Law
TO: The State Attorney's Office
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
RE: Philip Constantine case # 87-3058 CC29
My client, Mr. Philip Alexander Constantine, is no longer seeking to appeal his
deportation and is requesting the state's approval for voluntary repatriation at his own
expense at the earliest possible date.
RONALD K. BURMAN
FOR THE FIRM
Thanks for that juice you send for me with your grandson. I notice he is looking hail
and hearty like the Jamaica country life agrees with him.
I would have never thought that hogfruit could ever juice and bottle, Miss Oda. Take
you to come up with that. Anyway, all these years you always talk say is all those
hogfruit you eat keep you looking like a young girl.
Well, Maam, I is glad to know say me "bring him home" formula work to your
satisfaction, and I is always pleased to assist. And my grand-nephew in Florida who
work with the Dade department of corrections say thanks for that thing you send him
and how it come in handy to take care of some bills he had (what a way them can run
up bill a Foreign Maaml).
I hope this reaches to you okay, honey. My last several letters have been returned
unopened, and I am sure I used the same address as always, the one on Hog Fruit Hill.
Is everything okay? Write me soon my sweetness. The deadline is coming up for me to
pay Air Jamaica for my ticket, and I want to know what's going on and if I must still
P.S. I hope you liked the things I sent you in the barrel. Sorry, I could not afford those
Nikes you wanted; I hope that other brand is okay.
CALIFORNIA UNION BANK
INTERNATIONAL BANK DRAFT
PAY TO: Mrs. Odalis Constantine
THESUMOF: three thousand dollars -------- $3,000.00 US
FROM: Mrs. Marjorie Constantine-Lewis
Grandma, you are so bad! I can't get over how you have been sending back
those letters from Philip's girlfriend. I rolled over laughing when I read your details of
what you sprinkle on the letters before returning them to the post-mistress. But you
know something, you are right. Philip has no business getting that girl to use her
money and send him things clear down there-it's already bad enough that Mummy
sends him stuff all the time.
Thank you for those beautiful nightshirts you made for the baby and for
sending more gripe water-it works so well. I hope that you are doing okay and that
my worthless brother is not giving you too much trouble. I was very happy to hear that
you and Mummy are back on speaking terms after all these years, and that she even
spent some time with you on Hog Fruit Hill.
At first I was a little upset that she was taking time off from work to help
Philip "readjust" to Jamaica as she put it-he is a big man and he should lie in the bed
that he made. But, on the other hand, she did get a break from work, and as you said in
your last letter, she was looking quite "mashed up" when you saw her.
Well, whatever you did with her, she has been sounding a lot brighter than
before she left (you must send me some of those teas that she says you made for her!).
Mummy says that you are going to get Philip going in some juice business-did I hear
right that it was hog fruit juice? Mama, you sure you know what you doing? If you can
get Philip to do any kind of work for even three months straight, I will personally come
down there and give you an award!
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I sent the money to your account.
Thank you so much for helping us out with buying the new house. I would have sent it
before, but I had to help out Mummy a little with her bills since she was busy trying to
sort out that whole mix-up concerning Philip, and I know you had said for me to take
my time paying you back. Grandma, I can't believe that you were able to get so much
Creative Writing by Andrea Shaw
money for that piece of land with your parent's old house! As you requested I didn't
"breathe a word to a soul" about the loan, and you must make sure that Philip doesn't
catch sight of your bank-book. It is a good thing that you did not send him any money
when he asked because he would be sniffing around now for some more.
Okay, I am gone again, and yes, Kevin and I are still planning to visit you over
the Christmas when I get some time off from school, and you can meet your latest
great-grandchild. One thing though, you must promise to behave yourself and not
frighten poor Kevin who already thinks that me and my Jamaican family are crazy!
Dear Mas Takoo,
Glad to know that you enjoy the juice. Maybe if we get into the export business I can
send some for that nephew of yours in Florida. Please make your nephew know I is
very thankful for his help. If it wasn't for him I don't know how I would get that note
to Philip. Lord, Mas Takoo, what a way my plot work out!
Up to now Philip still can't sleep good in the night. The other morning a mini-bus
backfire down the hill and you should see that boy run for cover. Anyway, serve him
You take care and later this week I send more juice for you.
Lucia M. SuArez
La vida es un bailey
Siempre fui de la opinion que una fiesta de quince aflos era una actividad
retr6grada y burguesa. Yo, claro, ya era una americana asimilada y esas pomposidades
de "la patria" me parecian atavicas. Cuando mis padres me dijeron que no tenian
suficiente dinero para darme una fiesta pero que si podia ir al fot6grafo para hacerme
una foto elegant con uno de los vestidos alquilados del studio, yo les respond toda
indignada. LC6mo podian pensar que yo iba a querer una fiesta de treinta mil d61aes
para salir vestida de princesita artificial y bailar al ritmo de canciones de Julio Iglesias
como "De nifla a mujer"? iY lo peor! C6mo se les iba a ocurrir que una foto de
mentira de un moment no vivido iba a resolver su dilema econ6mico y mi dilema
moral? No, en verdad, no me interesaba mostrarle al mundo que al cumplir quince afios
yo era, lo que todos los adults Ilamaban, "seflorita." Me parecia espantoso, porque la
verdad era una: ser sefiorita queria decir que ya menstruaba, o sea que podia tener
relaciones reproductivas. iQud horror! Anunciarle ese detalle a todo el mundo. Y qu6
verguenza si, como era mi caso, el cuerpo sufriera de alguna lentidud y a6n no
menstruara. Como quiera, el mensaje de esta fiesta era uno sexista, colonialista, y
represivo. Y yo no entraba en esas de ninguna manera...
A nivel etico, todo me parecia una gran hipocresia. Los padres se pasaban
aflos ahorrando para este acontecimiento, y al final de este empezaban a ahorrar de
nuevo para la muy esperada boda virginal que todos esperaban ocurriera en cinco a diez
aflos (como mucho. La ironfa, claro, se agudizaba ante el hecho de que si al cumplir
quince aflos 6ramos sefloritas, tambi6n 6ramos la causa de mayor recelo, ya que no
podiamos salir con chicos como el resto del mundo civilizado. No, nuestra comunidad
(a la cual ni yo ni mis amigas perteneciamos porque ya no dramos solo cubanas sino
cubano-americanas) decidia que aunque los quince afios representaban el poder salir
como mujeresj6venes listas para el matrimonio; nuestros padres seguian
encarcelandonos ante cualquier tipo de actividad social que condujera a tal fin en los
Estados Unidos. Por ejemplo, mi hermana mayor, de 17 afios, fue a un baile de
Halloween del High School. Claro, que ella tenia un boyfriend esperandola. Bueno,
Mami se enter de esta reuni6n clandestine y mi pobre hermana... Justo en el
moment en que bajaron las luces a las diez de la noche, cuando todos ya habian
bailado much y sentian el cansancio que los conducia a apretones y a besos, un King
Kong (que asi se habia disfrazado Mami para entrar desapercibida a la fiesta) empez6 a
gritar hist6ricamente: "Puta, Puta, ninguna hija mia saldr* portal camino!" Y ahi
mismo, frente a todos los maestros que se hicieron los ciegos (bendito sea) y los otros
estudiantes maravillosamente sudados, empez6 a pegarle tromponazos-todo en el
nombre del honor, esa virtud tan necesaria para el ansiado casamiento. Bueno, todo eso
ocurri6 s61o porque mi pobre hermana ya habla pasado el umbral de los quince afios y
tenia que cargar con la cruz de ser "seflorita."