I See myself in you
I want to let you run through bougainvillea
And chirp to the song of crickets
To climb the guava tree and curl your toes
Into dusty red earth as soldier ants convoy past
And butterflies dart in the heady humid air
Of spectacular yellow Coctu, purple Hibiscus and cooking-pot stew
But my stomach balks at the taste of mendacity
And the disquieting dismemberment of you.
Drained like my mother’s claypot I was dry of blood.
Discovered in the River Thames
As bobbing sodden tore
Bereft of bearings or bushes,
They called me Afro-Caribbean:
I could have been.
We share a limbo dance and more.
They later thought seven half-candles and a sheet to the waves
Tied me to the crude blue ilk of Adekoye Adeoye
But it did not
For he, the honourable Fola, was found drumming
Rhapsodic reprieve from the twin tower eclipse
Of shock and awe. My fate,
Until they found me ten days later,
Was a lonely grave by the south-bank
Of Tower Bridge and Globe Theatre.
No mother of comfort to weep my departure,
No heat reflected off cracked asphalt or
Burnt amber roads to warm my watery tomb,
No fresh sticky scent of squeezed ripe mango or
The pound, pound, pound of fufu to
Entice and guide me on my way.
Not even two minutes of silence.
What kind of Mami Wata was called upon by
My guardians, murdering cohort of three,
To spin me up and down
Through sewage-ridden waves
The colour of fireless coal
In the deep deep sleep of night?
How could She name me Ikpomwosa?
What lies! What irony! Ogun I swear My spirit will haunt her.
And you, Bawa Juju I watched your face.
Trusting I drank of the cup and ate of the bread.
With the curiosity of an innocent child peering into
The narrow neck of a large earthenware pot
I stared into the pit of your eyes without knowing
Their dark hollow expanse would soon be pouring
With the sweat of sawing exertion. I did not know
My frothing, gulping scream would not echo.
Could not echo. Could not even sound.
Poisoned and paralyzed my terror
Stood blank in the light of an impotent moon,
The tongues that bubbled incantations
And shadows that danced among the splashes of potent
Ogogoro, scented oils, sea-shells and breath-blown chalk dust,
Corn, candlesticks and fleeing bright Bright powders.
The baffled and inquisitive settled for Adam:
And perhaps I am a beginning without end.
My beckoning trunks of orange
The slight codpiece of dignity
Sewn with wool for what it's worth
It needles back without point from a bed
Of shopping trolleys, urban waste and
Garbage ridden-silt to a branch of my
Trafficked existence in Hamburg.
The riddled colon of plant extract,
Toxic calabar bean and clay with
Flecks of pure pure gold testify to
My origins in Edo State.
I was a small child, a boy of five,
Maybe six years old.
Bawa Juju you accused me of witchcraft,
Fatal punishment for a word I did not even understand.
I should feel pity for your worthless soul,
Instead I rage.
You stole from me.
Forest elephant, pale-fronted Negro finch,
Hyena, Bush baby, Yellow-Throated Cuckoo, cuckoo
And red river hog drowned in your insatiable greed
Or were they eaten by the fishermen who
Did not care for my dreams of Eba and Egusi
Soup Boiled yam and Ogbono,
And my grandmother’s Oghwo Ovwri:
For there is no smoked fish
In the River Thames
Only leaves of bitter tricks.
But limbo is not forever.
I am Ahigbe. I am Olokun.
I, Bawa Juju, will find you.
We were born on a Sunday
1. [SALTPOND, GHANA: 1681]
My name is Eresi Mebrabrabio
I’m tall like palm wine tree
My husband calls me Odo
Yes, Odo, for he loves me like the smooth
Arabi coffee I warm for him at break of day
But few know me.
I am Mami Wata.
I hide my wares in Egyaa number two
And sell them in Kormantse,
I come home with beads.
2. [JOS, NIGERIA: 1979]
Sister Esi Panyin,
she is a marvel to behold:
Hair like crown of Frangipani tree, body
Tall like Araba, skin smooth like
Clay, Rayfield laterite; and eyes,
Eyes wide like Bush-Baby.
Many fear the lash of her tongue,
Bulala tongue that fells Baobab tree
Faster than a Kwado-frog catches flies.
But her smile, when it comes, is the cool, cool of
Rain after a season of punishing dry
3. [LONDON, ENGLAND: 2013]
Eresi, I wanted to have your name
But mother said no.
I wanted to bear your tribal mark
But mother said no.
Sister Panyin did not care.
She drank Our loss and she laughed:
“Let’s go to the Niger
Bend and bury bare feet in the dust!”
My name is Esi Kakraba and
That is how it was.
While the Fire in Kitty Rages
Early morning grey
A parakeet calls its tropical song,
A London bus thunders over cracked
Asphalt and sends shivers down the spine
Of a house
While the fire in Kitty rages.
A tired road separates
Fat Boy in boxers
From the licks of yellow that laugh at
Black night and set five wooden homes
He holds his hose flaccid:
Its mouth facing hard ground,
A young woman hugs harried
Belongings, her wet tears dry
Stains on burnt wooden bones
Collapsing. In the warm, under
Velvet red blanket
Sipping hot coffee from a mug
Tight curls twist into helpless plaits,
Nausea seeps through my body.
How to comprehend the incongruent
Comfort of a cat curled by waking feet,
The folded lip of a long list of shopping
When a parakeet calls its tropical song
While the fire in Kitty rages
(For Rod Westmaas)
On those nights when the moon reveals
nothing but a thin crocked smile and my eyes
(open or closed) see nothing but a sea of
blackness, the cool sheets of my bed tip
me gently into the cooling black waters
of the Akawini creek and as I float downward
little friendly fish nip at my skin.
And wata getting cold like crab dog’s nose.
“Wata wata yuh guh yuh wata here.”
“Berbice?” “West Coas’, West Coas’!” “Come buy
yuh no scale fish, here. One fuh hundred dolla.”
The ungodly darkness delights.
Wata running over my naked skin
an’ I sinkin’ deeper. Legs
entangle with slippery reeds and lotus flower.
Wata Mamma asks:
“Is wha’ yuh doin’? Come
Le’ me comb yuh hair.”
A black beetle crashes into the side of my face.
Jolts me awake.
drenched by the (s)welter of the night,
an’ I itchin’ bad.
Mr Loverman tightens his grasp.
His long arms protective.
Nothing disturbs his sleep.
I sigh. He snores.
Juanita Cox completed her PhD thesis, Edgar Mittelholzer (1909-1965) and the Shaping of his Novels, at the University of Birmingham in 2013. She presented a keynote paper, Corentyne Thunder: A Quiet Revolution, at the XXVIII Annual West Indian Literature Conference in 2009, and an Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lecture in 2014: Edgar Austin Mittelholzer’s Creative Genes(is) and the Geni(us) Behind It. She is editor of Creole Chips and Other Writings (2018) and has published various articles including: ‘Music and Symbolism in Edgar Mittelholzer’s The Life and Death of Sylvia’ (Guyana Arts Journal, 2009) and introductions to republished editions of Mittelholzer’s Corentyne Thunder (2009) and The Life and Death of Sylvia (2010). Forthcoming publications include In the Eye of the Storm: Edgar Mittelholzer – Critical Perspectives, and a critical biography of Mittelholzer’s life. She is, with Rod Westmaas, co-founder and producer of Guyana SPEAKS (UK): a monthly forum, which offers distinguished speakers and performers an opportunity to share their knowledge and passion of all things Guyanese.