Katherine Agyemaa Agard

1. OIL

Raleigh inhaled. There – jet black, viscous, the crudest oil, asphaltum. Eyes rolling back he saw himself as himself – dressed in iron, bowing to this mirror of oil. Metal, all colors, turning the eye as a butterfly’s wing. Black holding iridescence, there the red grain of his hair, the flesh red of human skin, red on the naked apple rose , shining animal and shell, even his white salty beard. Smell sharp, all of life and death, the sun rolling , this brilliant shining morning near the black lake. Had he not wished for the kingdom of gold? Surely this announced it. See the red and brown bodies tending it, not knowing the metal wealth that lay within. With sword and fist, he’d take the black, let it pour this his hands.

Trinidad Oil they would name it.

By the 1880s, the government of Trinidad realized some £16,000 per year in “illuminating oil” duties. A dispatch from the United States consul in Trinidad reported in June of 1889 reported that it was A tax ‘that weighs’ mainly on the masses.

The intellectual capital of the colony grew. The school system was influenced as more young men turned to the sciences and engineering.

The price of oil, however, displaced discussions of the price of cocoa in the hotel bars and gentleman’s clubs of the colony.

The advent of the paraffin lamp using clear-burning kerosene made readingin the evening easier and education a blessing for a greater number of people.

Streets that were pitch-black on nights when the moon did not appear became2safe.

In 1797 Médéric-Louis-Élie Moreau de Saint-Méry published his Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de lisle Saint-Domingue. This was an extensive lexicon of skin colour on a spectrum of white and black.

Non-renew image2

I imagine, for his own purposes, this alteration of the CXC chemistry textbook’s illustration of the distillation of crude oil. In this configuration, the seed of the white man is the best purification method in the distillery. The colours of the women he watched standing in for more and more distilled oil.

Non-renew image3

Materials like crude oil and coal which formed from living things many years ago are called fossil fuels. Crude oil takes millions of years to form, so when we have used it all, we cannot quickly get more. This is why we call crude oil a non-renewable or finite resource. Trinidad supplies will run out in about 50 years’ time. Maybe less.

Animals and plants die and fall to the bottom of the sea. Their remains are covered by mud. This mud turns to rock. This pressure turns these remains to crude oil. It is important that no air or oxygen is present.

A society that survives on oil needs death to refresh the supply. I think of that when gas is cheap.

At the rate we are going, perhaps we will never run out of oil.

The nights – for those that watch from windows – will never be dark again, as promised.


You tell me.


This essay is remixed and sampled from the following sources, which should be read in their own right: 

A Concise Revision Course for CXC by Anne Tinsdale

Black Gold by Gerard Besson 

The 1937 6c stamp depicted is now for sale for $8.35 online at Don’s Classic Stamps.

Katherine Agyemaa Agard is a Trinidadian writer currently based in San Francisco. This essay is a sketch of a longer essay published as of colour (Essay Press, 2020). Further information and iterations of this project that are not best represented in print are available online at essaypress.org/kaa