Gossip, from Albion Street
‘Gossip’ from the Old English godsibb, from God and sibb, meaning ‘relative.’ A godsibb was a godmother, godfather or sponsor; literally someone ‘related to one in God.’ In Middle English the term godsibb came to mean ‘any familiar acquaintance’, especially women invited to attend a birth. Later, during the sixteenth century the term changed to ‘gossip’ and took on the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, attending a birth, but also delighting in idle talk.
Only now, I rouse myself to listen
at a city’s door: Port of Spain,
the musk of centuries wafting through,
time swinging its hinges,
and those long black pods that hang
from Queen’s Park trees
whose names I never learned,
sway like portières parting for the ghosts
who go and enter as they please,
spreading History’s gossip in the lee
of fading limestone walls. A city so untaught
to me, I left it never hearing
Conquerabia once. Commuter town now,
zombie-hot streets, knot of New Caribbean
people tied and suited to a busy amnesia.
I blame unpolished independence
for what I do not know: the way to Lady Chancellor Hill,
rusty knowledge of the fleur-de-lis
atop the Cathedral’s rattling iron fence,
crumbling squares still named for British lords
—such toponymic sloth! Such stony epigones.
Under shroud of rain, Ovid’s muttering ghost
circles the Lighthouse: “omnia mutantur,
nihil interit,” an era’s thundering volte-face,
then a flash of lightning. This gleaming
high-rise mirage dissolves, and I wonder—
Is this city but a poem? Was leaving a mistake?
We who return, seers become, seeking the lost
costumbrismo of a Yoruba village, field
our generation’s backward questions—
Who fought the battle in the “Place of Souls”?
Who hung in Brunswick Square?
Is civilization a cradle or a grave?
these days, you slip through
the city’s walls of traffic, noise, unseen.
“Let not thyself be troubled by the phantoms.”
Instead become a haunt yourself.
Go cold in the bright mausoleum of the new
Häagen-Dazs, colonial as Cotton’s ice, still.
sneer of “What’s her story?” in a
illiterate boredom, but Cipriani’s statue has already
read you, excursus of migration in your eyes,
labour of return organized
as memory and no-memory, the world’s
gravid roundabout, far from the Savannah.
find myself poetess in the Hollows,
a drained reservoir flowering, gypsy as the botany,
long to sleep, O idyll, in the shady, green exhaust.
awakening cannot be undone.
Dual now, remembrances of bright
and rosy Illadel quicken into the night,
my citizenship alert to my pen’s betrayal.
Like Turnbull’s fountain, “presented to the Borough,”
I too must present myself, if only in ink.
Albion Street, I look toward Paramin hills,
but there is no escape from Albion, from the myth
of giants, Blake’s primeval man, always men
cities on the backs of other men,
their mules. Woodbrook, from der Zucker estate
to fourth estate district, fair Ana and Petra get a byroad
the “cruel map of sugar and oblivion,”
but my grandmothers, where are their names?
I have come home to write them
on the bed of East Dry River, all over this capital.
Godmothers! Macommères! At night your brilliant ghosts
still gather here, genius loci of this ancient mudflat.
These northern foothills my caquetoire,
I listen at the city’s door as you unearth yourselves
from burial. From beyond. A rara. A rising.
Rumour, from Hayes Court
…She ventures now to lift the sash / The window is her proper sphere…
—Jonathan Swift, The Progress of Beauty
I hear the Bishop lives there. A house so cool
the Demerara windows have undressed themselves,
raised their sashes, but the pageant of the rain
only crowns with thundering silence all that naked air.
Shut up now. By the entrance stairs, palms closed
in quiet grace, a verandah screened from prying
disbelief, Boston ferns lifting their croziers in prayer.
They say the Bishop’s wife smokes, as a rule,
the dusty rooms with frankincense and sings
at twilight, swings her voice, her thurible of fear.
A city full of hot air, but the house so cool
that in its shade, History keeps composing itself:
“…una tota est
nostra sepulta domus.”
How many Bishop’s wives have buried here?
Not flesh and bone, but secrets of the cloth,
the mute housekeeping of a dying faith.
But History always talks, these old houses
are always dressed to kill, the stiff lace of frieze
strangling the roof, iron crestings darting
the sky, lintels warped with savage fret.
champêtres now, just Tutu in the garden
weeping underneath the pine, the ghosts
of Mr. Protheroe, Antsey knocking back a beer.
And Reverend Tenia, where is your grande maison?
Inside the house, the grapevine of hours thickens
the atmosphere and time grows rank,
the grape of laughter spilling, echoes of Girl Guides
playing on the lawn, whispers of French
ambassadors who held court in wicker chairs.
And through the cordons the Bishop’s wife peers,
her window a confessional, as silence keeps
its vintage light, curtains off the rumoured year.
In the Catholic store on Morne Coco Road,
I saw the Bishop’s wife or just her ghost.
Deaf to the bruit of collapsing things, she clutched
her heart, her back turned on the narrow world.
Summer Edward grew up as a third culture kid in Trinidad and the USA. An alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, her writing has been published in The Millions, The Columbia Review, Horn Book Magazine, The Missing Slate, New Daughters of Africa (HarperCollins, 2019), New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean (Peepal Tree Press, 2016) and many more. Currently at work on her first book, she divides her time between her adopted hometown, Philadelphia, USA and her Caribbean homeland, Trinidad and Tobago. Read more of her work at www.summeredward.com.