the inertia of being broken
no one seems to notice
her predicates skillfully sliced thin
for ear. esteem. ego. gashing.
or him, trying to crawl across
the broken edges
of things in the aftermath
searching for souvenirs,
particles for a make shift model
of his heart. soul. spirit.
hoping amidst the rubble
are consecrated pieces:
maybe a shield
a pair of crutches
for these broken members
need a few things.
He needs a few things
to keep going.
*Published in tongues of the ocean February 2011 issue.
buried umbilical cord
for a moment as a hurricane
in your bosom
where forlorn no longer
stretches me between sleep
i’d rescind the very beat
of my circadian
let my belly go
run wild and unruly
between the rows
of sugar cane
in your Demerara.
be the broken portions
of fertile soil on either bank
O Essequibo, drip delicious
the sticky of spice mangoes
around my lips
let the cow’s moo be music.
crash violently into East Flatbush
the quintessence of Kaiteur.
bring the rapids of Whitewater
and somehow siamese mend
your hilly sides to my valleys.
switch the once sour now sweet
of Five Fingers turned Star Fruit
‘cause i yearn
with passion immeasurable
to be home
In your arms.
wash away the petals
of these forget-me-nots
around the temple of my familiar
be my undoing
my get it together.
where are your sweet figs
for the angostura
swimming in my America?
good god Guyana
suction every droplet
into your Lamaha Canal
leave only the sweet
in ink permanent.
*Published in tongues of the ocean October 2010 issue.
privacy in a public realm
were it not true
i’m unsteady white noises
scratched at precise 3:21 intervals
i’d be an anesthetized bundle
little more than my self
less than alright
version of me.
a therapist in session with her id
a sliver of miss you’s
& mini heartbeats
do not disturb me!!!
from the remittance
of balled up snotty tear tissue
strewn across every room
cagey. not so cagey.
weird. so very weird. less complexes
tears. yes tears. a bucket. a river.
a clasped handful. an exhalation
with so much so much
hurt & anger & oxygen
you’d think a breath was taken in
peace & indifference.
i love you.
a message written
in the perforated
side effects of the love act
read as Braille.
i love you.
said in those
premeditated 3:21 silences.
*Published in Opium Magazine 4/25/2011 and 4/29/2010.
Six Word Stories
Status lost; won’t marry for salvation.
*Published in the Poincina Press Anthology “That They May Learn Our Language: Six Word Stories from the Caribbean”
There are things I will always remember; like the lingering gasoline odor in his 1957 Chevy Bel Air and how it travelled through every defining moment of my bygone. Its shiny leatherette seats, Hindi on the speakers, ocean breeze and heat in competition for my cheeks as we drove from Non Pariel to my primary school in Georgetown. I used to get out, run around the front and hang my body through his window, littering his face with kisses. He was a nursery school teacher, a single father. My aunt once said it would be easier if I slid across the seat and kissed him instead of leaving the car to do so. An uncomfortable silence followed, for it was never about ease. We didn’t say it aloud, but it was decided she would never join our commute again.
Thirteen and splayed across the front seat reading VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street. He was behind the hood fixing the filter when the moment I could no longer swim or wear those white shorts whenever I wanted, had arrived. We discussed the power of no and my right to say yes when it was time. I was convinced his standards meant until I was really old, when it might no longer pique my interest. The following day we made the first of many annual gynecological appointments I’d eventually learn to keep on my own.
Whenever the West Indies cricket team came to Bourda, he rose before the sun to prepare Roti, Channa Curry, and Passion Fruit juice. Eventually coconut brooms sweeping cow dung and mud plastered bottom houses, or the fisherman’s conch would pierce the morning’s silence. After watching the match beneath the scorching mid -day sun, we’d stand in line at the Brown Betty beside the East Coast Car Park for two quarter pints of Soursop ice-cream. Sunset found us at the Seawalls where the evening air had a tiny bite, a chill the tropics would never otherwise know. Most times, we sat in silence licking our spoons and listening to the Atlantic slap rocks at her shore. Sometimes I asked about my mother, wondering which of her characteristics I’d inherited, but always surmised I am my father’s child.
At seventeen he taught me how to drive, and the following year through the blinding tears of a broken heart, I drove the Chevy off-road and into a Black Sage bush. In the darkness of the fifth power outage that week, he came with Mr. Benn and towed it home. While fumbling around for a box of matches, he finally said, “No parent should have to bury their child. You need to be more careful.” I apologized and admitted I had a lot on my mind. He pressed and I confessed to secretly seeing a boy who was gunned down during the recent spate of political unrest. I’d broken our treaty to never keep secrets. He shaved two hours off my curfew, rescinded my driving privileges, attended the funeral, and walked me through an inconceivable sorrow with the right ratio of distance to listening ear.
I still remember coming from my graduation; the ocean on our left, calm and offering a steady breeze. Duck egg green, sea foam blue and ochre houses to our right. Joy, almost as tangible as skin, filled the car. Then suddenly, he inquired if I’d ever said yes. A thousand volts ran through me.
“Did you want to?”
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Did you love him?”
“I still do.”
A difficult silence ensued. So I braced myself for a stern reprimand. Instead, he apologized.
While vacationing in Montserrat, I told him of my plan to seek employment with CARICOM because I wanted a career that entailed travelling. But back in Guyana, while forcing our luggage into the Chevy, he informed me that my mother had begun the immigration process. She wanted me to live with her in the United States. He thought it was a good idea. I disagreed, but was persuaded on the basis of better Graduate School options.
Over the next few months, my signature was affixed to documents that came and went in huge manila envelopes that somehow managed to be deeply depressing despite their shiny yellow color. We knew the inevitable would happen but when the day arrived, it delivered a blow that threatened to silence us. And as if in a fight to keep our sound from dying, we drove windows down, Chiayya Chaiyya blaring from the old speakers and singing at the top of our lungs. It was the worst kind of pretension, an ill fitted pseudo-happiness straining to wrap itself around us. He pulled into the airport’s parking lot and warned, “Respect your mother and her husband. But if he ever tries anything, call the police and call me.”
Tears broke as I held onto him for dear life.
He carried my suitcases to the glass doors and wrapped his arms around me as if he would never get the chance to do it again.
“Was I a good father? Did I show you enough love?” He asked in a voice that almost gave under uncertainty and sadness.
I buried my face in his shirt and nodded as the sobs took my chest.
“I’m going to come back, okay.”
“I know you will. But first you get on that plane.”
“I love you daddy.”
“I love you too sugar.”
Two tentative steps backward, I turned and walked away without looking back. Yet, I knew he stood there until I was out of sight. In the plane, I gave a voiceless scream to the window and tarmac below. A middle aged woman going to meet her son for the first time since he migrated twelve years prior, gently stroked my arm. Somehow, her on and off chatter was comforting. She displayed a wallet filled with water stained black and white photos from his childhood, and a few colored shots of him in the snow, at his graduation, and proposing to his girlfriend. I vowed I wouldn’t stay away from my dad that long.
Meeting my mother for the first time was almost as I had imagined. Almond eyes, a graceful nose, honey skin, and a slender frame. Her hug, though warm, was mildly unsure. She bit her nails and spoke incessantly, save for a few nervous pauses between her chatter about graduate school and how much she hoped I’d like Brooklyn. Her husband, also of East Indian descent, was husky with average good looks. He took several furtive glances in the rearview mirror to gauge my reaction. I avoided eye contact and stared blindly out the SUV. I missed the smell of gasoline, the old Chevy, and my dad. If someone had inquired about landmarks I’d seen between Jfk Airport and their block in East Flatbush, I’d only remembered the Hansel and Gretel style cottage that would become my home. Everything else was a blur.
8:45am July 10th 2005, still tall, olive, and handsome, but sporting hair shorter than I’d remembered, he stood behind the same glass doors that had swallowed me. The Shahrukh Khan haircut copied from the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai replaced with one that almost showed his scalp. Seeing him again, everything in me relaxed. We hugged longer than ever before. And for the first time in a while, I didn’t have that feeling of displacement. I belonged. I was home. Indeed New York had in some ways become home, but there was always that sliver of not quite belonging, an ongoing desire for the place where the dust settles.
We spoke at length, drove down the same highways where very little and yet so much had changed. Sometimes the cracks in the seat pinched my thighs but I welcomed it with the gasoline filled air, and the noticeably cleaner interior. A result of the woman he was seeing and wanted to marry. Until then, it never occurred to me how lonely he must have been through the years.
“You know you could have dated, right?”
“Who said I didn’t? The relationships fell apart before I brought them home. In a sense, it worked out because a parade of women would have been bad for you.”
I slept in my old bed, appreciated the starry nights that big city lights kill, watched the West Indies team play Sri Lanka at his girlfriend’s house, and swam every Sunday in the creek behind ours. Foods that had lost their authenticity at hands laced with foreign culture regained their legitimacy. I gained five pounds that hugged my thighs, and ran every day along the railway embankment. Then time got jealous and began running even faster. My six weeks’ vacation was down to five days and a hectic scramble to visit relatives, friends from high school, university, and a trip to the Brown Betty.
The second goodbye wasn’t as hard. I was going to be back in four months for his December nuptials and an interview at the CARICOM headquarters. Everything was progressing as expected until I got to JFk. Watching my mother cross the distance between us, I knew something was wrong. They said he drove from the airport, got out of the car and collapsed in the yard. My heart fell.
I stayed at the airport waiting for a seat on the next flight. She tried to convince me otherwise. But the constant suggestions to go home and return the following day angered me. Eventually, I snapped.
“Stop telling me to go home! This place is not home!
“You’re hurt, but you’re not allowed to speak to me like that.”
“Allowed? Really! Let’s talk about allowed. Someone should have told you that a mother is not allowed to leave her daughter during the stages she needs her the most. Do you think eighteen birthday cards and a few letters with money folded into them makes you a parent? Or the past two years of living with you was enough? Just leave me alone!”
Soft sobs came from her direction but I refused to look around. Early the following morning, two seats were available and we flew back to Guyana in silence. It was her first trip in twenty one years. My second within a matter of hours and I cried myself to sleep, awoke and cried again, repeating that cycle for the entire five hour flight. Arriving at Timehri with its harrowing familiarity and the starkness of the one thing that had changed was hard. I wanted to wait for him, wishing that he was late and would eventually appear so that I could call it a bad joke. Instead, we took a cab home. As soon as I got out of the car, I ran to the Chevy and threw myself onto the seat and cried. I wanted to find solace in his scent muddled with the hint of gasoline, the gum wrapper on the floor, and the moments we shared in it. Mom walked into the house brimming with villagers and family members who received her as if they never said a foul word about her leaving my dad and me.
A wake was held for seven nights until the day of the funeral. Whenever I wasn’t in the parallel reality watching it happen to someone else that looked like me, I gave myself over to incessant sobbing. Several hundreds of people showed up every night to play dominoes, card games, sing songs, and compare memories of him. Sometimes I listened, other times I went into his bed and curled myself against the noise.
There is a DVD of the funeral. I will watch it someday when the memories fragment. For now, I can still remember reading the Eulogy and losing my voice. I remember his skin, rubbery and jaundiced around his lifeless form. He was fifty two and dead from a heart attack. I was his only child. Mom played the piano, his fiancée sang ‘Now comes the night,’ and at the end, both screamed the way wounded animals do. He’s buried in a grey tomb at Friendship Cemetery, four plots from the big tree, eighty nine steps away from St. Augustine Anglican Church’s door. At night I can still hear myself counting, making those steps and the gravel crunching underfoot. Sometimes it’s so loud that I have to pay close attention to see if it’s happening all over again or just in my head.
It took two weeks, mom and her husband hoisting me into the tub, and turning on the shower for my first bath. I was fully clothed and angry with them, and the world for continuing as normal. Some days I managed a few morsels of food, on others, everything was undesirable, even Soursop ice-cream. My mother expressed concern and cried often; in the shower, while doing the laundry, over the stew, or in her room after leaving mine. Silently, I wished it was her and not him.
From books and CDs, to psychotherapists’ cards on the nightstand, or some mornings her fetal form on the floor beside my bed, I slowly began to notice her efforts. There were handmade invitations to visit the backyard for tea, coffee in the sun room, or sometimes a single line inquiring, ‘Is it too much, too soon?’ To which I had replied, ‘A little.’ It was our first correspondence in months. Then the sentences grew along with their frequency. And gradually she pulled me out, often times offering her thigh as a wailing wall, her shoulder as cradle. Eventually, I told stories about dad, how we lived and loved each other. She was an attentive listener who seldom asked questions. Then one night after her husband excused himself from the dinner table, we truly spoke to each other.
“When I left, it was with the intention of paving a better way for all of us. But when I got here, it took longer than expected to get my green card. Without it, I couldn’t get a proper job or sign a lease. So I lived with this Jamaican couple and a Grenadian woman on 91st and Kings Highway. We rented rooms and shared the bathroom, kitchen, and sometimes groceries. Nobody liked the landlord because he was mean. Sometimes the boiler would break and there was no warm water or heat for days. I used to wear my coats inside and iron the sheets before going to bed. We were illegal and afraid to complain to the state. I never thought it was going to be easy, but never imagined it would have been that hard for so long. I know the birthday cards with money inside weren’t enough, but it was the best I could do at the time. Every day that passed, I missed you and your father more and more. ”
She fiddled with her teacup, dainty fingers tracing the rim, her face constricted as if remembering was painful.
“Your father begged me not to come. He thought we were good at home, but I thought he was small minded. I shouldn’t have left.”
“Why didn’t you come home?” I asked.
“I was young and stupid and wanted something to show for the years I’d spent here, some kind of evidence that the sacrifices weren’t made in vain. I divorced your father hoping to find someone to marry me, and then go back and re-marry him to bring the two of you here, but it didn’t happen fast enough and eventually he moved on. I don’t blame him though.”
“Believe me when I say I never intended to hurt you. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have left; I would have made different choices. Over the years, I’ve been trying to find ways to say apologize and for a while I used money. I’m sorry for doing that, and for hurting you.”
I was unaware of how much hearing that she was remorseful mattered until it actually happened. She quelled a storm I was oblivious of until the calm came and I recognized the difference.
October 2nd, 2012. My husband and our daughter are trying to fly a kite in the pasture beside our home. Her giggles and frustrated grunts whenever it lifts and falls, his voice as he reassures her, tempts me to leave the work I’ve brought home to join them. But remembering moments alone with my dad dissuades me. Instead, I sit and listen, enjoying the sounds of their bonding. Memories of my father are still fresh, sometimes gentle like the Trade Winds, other times painfully sharp and sudden in cases when my secretary sends a reminder for an appointment that falls on his birthday. It has been seven years since I left New York, and though mom wishes I’d stayed, she understands that I can’t build my life in a place that took so much from our family. We conduct weekly marathon conversations. There are three remaining until she visits for my daughter’s birthday. The two of them are madly in love with each her. Through their rapport, I see the kind of mother she would have been, and it warms my heart.