Tuesday, July 06, 2004

So now i've returned to NYC but not before the weekend got heavier and heavier. Wole and i found pictures of Doreen from 1951, in her best pin-up girl poses. apart from the hilarity of seeing one's grandma looking like a sexy 50s screen star, there is the shock of how exactly like my mother she looks, to contend with.

Wole and i looked at a bunch of ancient photos, including childhood photos of my uncle Frank and young pictures of Wole's dad, when he and my grandmother first met in Trinidad. The head trip was (and still is) enormous.

So I've got my first poem out of the miasma of it. I'm still processing. The weekend was heavy, but there is a joy in it. Finding out about family, about ancestry that you thought you'd never know about opens up a world of possibility, a world that makes you feel like your chest itself is expanding to encompass something new and grand and wondrous. Still, the idea that so many folks went to such lengths to deny the existence of my mother (long long story) which by extension denies my existence and my brother's existence, the existence of our fathers of people whom we've loved, the children we'll have...

so that said, here's my first poem on the matter. if it sounds a little angry, it isn't necessarily; the complexities of an un-wed mother of 18 years old in trinidad in 1941 is way too much to even begin to comprehend. Besides, Wole and i have spent much of Friday night till four in the morning saturday. trying to piece more of our histories together. Before it's all done there will be more tears to shed and more glories and heartbreaks to apprehend.


In the 1941 photograph, Nicodemus is looking
away. He is already past 60
gaunt whip of a man, his hat, the leather
of his face, his work shirt, all those of a laborer
Nicodemus has worked hard all his life

He has always wanted
better things for Doreen, his grand-daughter

In the photograph, Doreen is looking
into the distance; her features fine as a bird’s
she is pin-up girl 1951 gorgeous
leaning forward, one arm posed delicately
in the mudras of some part of her Trinidad heritage

Doreen has always wanted
better things; for Doreen, for Hyacinth
-the daughter whom she gave away-
the smile might say the ten year old
is already distant memory

In the photograph, Doreen leans
against Ojurongbe, not yet her husband.
They do not yet know of the four boys to come.
The red tint of the sepia says
nothing of the secrets to come
how deep they will be buried
navel string to banyan tree

In the photograph, they overlook
the Caribbean sea and laugh
In the photograph, I hear them laugh
like a nightmare awakening of truth
coming to the surface
past 50 years of lies

of best friend lies
and her mother who lies.
is still looking away
he will never know how his grand-baby
almost shamed him
with this red afterbirth of a child
Doreen will still have
what he wants for her
and Jide will come
and Femi will come
and Koye will come
and Wole will come
and still the red laughter in the photograph
no trace of Hyacinth the daughter

And if Hyacinth does not exist
such is the same for Roger
such is the same for Jamil
such is the same for their fathers
such is the same for everyone they have ever loved

and how many past the gravestone lies
must still bury the unspeakable
even as Doreen, dead on the birthday
of her daughter screams it from her grave

November 30, 1941, Nicodemus is looking
through the sugar cane
and Hyacinth
might as well be a missed menses and nothing more
red tint of sepia laughter
in a photograph
in an album
crumbling from the acid of lies piled high

A picture tells a thousand words
A poet tells a few million more
Do not look away Nicodemus
I am here. My brother is here
our children will bear your name
And I will scream them present
and alive
Their future is not past the sugar cane
or in the banyan tree’s roots
of theirs is to be buried
your pictures and your laughter
will be smothered in their blood.

Meanwhile, i've found a collection of family and personal history, narrative poems by David Huddle and of course i can't remember the title right now because i gave it to my uncle for his birthday together with a copy of Frank McCourt's "'Tis" since my uncle is spearheading the memoir of our mothers' lives; but check out David Huddle's name on Google or something and see what else you find on him. His work is really well done.



Blogger piscean2764 said...

Over 3 years late, I found this by chance!
I knew your grandmother (my 'Aunty Doreen'), her husband (my 'Uncle Eb') and the 4 boys but especially Koye and Wole.
Of you I just want to say...
From your grandmother you have received a gift of the Arts! An ability to express yourself beautifully.
She had a highly developed and innate sense of beauty.. Of aesthetics.
Like the parable of the talents, you have used yours well. You are truly the grandchild of your grandmother!
Well done!

4:12 PM  

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