Circles

MERRIE JOY WILLIAMS

The sun is melting, a disc of dark honey in a sky of white rum. Crimson bleeding every which way, like the air around this house is itself a young woman — stood slightly proud from the road through this village to Kingston and beyond. Pearl stands on the veranda she has just finished shining with well-trained hands; plunging the rag in the smooth russet polish, then circles, red circles like waving goodbye to bygone times encrypted in its wood. Aunt Fanny’s fierce footsteps; or dangling from the rails to wave at the Pioneer bus; the doorstep games of younger siblings, once the day’s chores were done: Bruk dem one-by-one — galong bwoy! Bruk dem two-by-two — galong bwoy! Finger mash no cry…

Pearl watches the horizon hide itself behind dusk’s many petticoats, non-committal, if it might emerge again tomorrow to repeat its entreaty: there are other horizons beyond me — if you just pack your things and come. But how? Mummy and Daddy are getting old. Duty is a tether like the one that winches the old nanny goat. Pearl stands, one foot flat, the other mid-step, arrested in the act of folding up the chamois; looking up to see the sun — lower now, amber — glowing beyond all need for elbow grease, all reasons not to chase the dream that there are other places a woman might call home, than this eight-apartment house, its flourishing tomato vines, rampant callaloo, chochos, cocos, plantain, cassava, badoos, grapefruit, and oranges offering themselves like lamps in the twilight above swollen green pumpkins.

In the evening sky, a yellow-faced grassquit chirrups from its perch in the thicket and Pearl thinks, even birds have lovers, an urge to make their own nests — the grassquit’s nest green, globular, assembled from grass. Even the cloth that puts the polish on, needs another to take some off again, to buff. All things must come to a point at which you call them done. And maybe this is the gist of the grassquit’s dusk song. Pearl nods, takes the other tiny rag in her hand, folds it and tucks it beneath the moon of tinned polish, placed snugly with the other, in the small enamel bucket.

Merrie Joy Williams is a British-Jamaican poet, who was a winner of the UK Poetry Archive’s ‘Wordview 2020’ competition, and shortlisted for the 2020 Bridport Prize. She is the recipient of Arts Council England awards for fiction and poetry, a London Writers Award, several residencies, and an Obsidian Foundation fellowship. Her debut collection is ‘Open Windows’ (Waterloo, 2019). She teaches writing, and edits prose and poetry anthologies.

The Admiral

GEOFFREY PHILP

Freed by an obeah woman, who wanted
“a likkle company every Friday eveling,”
the Admiral, when everyone else was asleep,
would crawl down his pedestal to answer
the summons to her bed where he’d stay
until midnight and then, ascend to his rightful
position, the title he once bore, Viceroy in the Indies.

But it had been three years since his liberator
had died, yet her curse remained. Now the Admiral
heads straight to the cemetery to pay respects
to his mistress, climbs to her shack at the top
of Liberty Hill to claim part of the inheritance
she’d hidden under her floor, and where he keeps
sun-bleached clothes he’d stolen from the poor
on Windsor Road — like he was a common thief —
so he could roam freely among these New World
Africans, like a nobody, until the rumheads

renamed him “The Cuban” because of his accent.

The Admiral didn’t like that name. He preferred
the name his mother, Susanna, had bestowed on him,
Cristoffa Corombo, whispered in the soft syllables
of her Ligurian tongue. But, at least, it was better
than what one dreadlocked African, whom the Admiral
would have sworn had figured out his identity,
called him, “Christopher-Come-Buck-Us.”

Grabbing his clothes, the Admiral walked past women
selling cheap goods from Cathay — as if the Silk Road
had reached Xaymaca — to his favorite bar near the Negro
River, which reminded him of the tavern that Domenico,
his father had owned in Savona, where he’d learned
the secrets of ocean winds and stories about fabled
Cipangu. But everywhere had been discovered,
and when the Admiral entered the bar, he ordered
his usual shot of rum from Rosie, a beautiful African
woman, whom he’d have loved to draw but was afraid
she’d be offended. The last thing the Admiral needed
was angry Africans poking into his business.

Gripping the shot glass between his thumb and index
finger with the same firmness as he had held the pens
when he signed letters demanding justice from the Spanish
court, but whose pleadings were never resolved,
the Admiral watched the news on the television —
a miracle if he ever saw one — about the toppling
of Edward Colston’s statue. Although their nations
had always been at war; they were allies in the same cause.
The Admiral retreated to the back of the bar
where he settled among the shadows and sipped
his drink until a group of Africans, led by the dreadlocked
one, sat in front of the television, blocking his view.

Furious at the effrontery, the Admiral held
his anger and shifted his chair. His mistress
had tutored him in the ways of the island,
but he’d never grown accustomed to the speech
of these Africans. He moved his chair to eavesdrop
on the conversation that had captured his attention.

“Tear him raas off de rock,” said the dreadlocked
African, who had escaped the enchantment of empire
by studying his reflection. As the images burned
on the screen, the Admiral gulped down the rest
of his drink and signaled to Rosie for another shot
when he saw the beheading of his statue in Boston,
the drowning of another in Richmond and realized
that the African’s plan would mean his second death.

“Grind de marble to dus’ and dash it inna de sea,”
one of the other Africans added. The Admiral wanted
to object. “But I was a messenger of Christ,
and the Word of God has now spread to the four
corners of the world — a sign that the Second
Coming is that hand!” But the Admiral remembered
what had happened in Española with the nine
year-old girls, he’d procured for his Castellanos.
Yet, if he had still possessed the power he once
wielded, he’d have cut out their tongues,
like his brother, Bartolomeo, had done
to a woman who had claimed that their family
had descended from common stock or sliced
off their ears, as his men had done to the indios,
“to test the sharpness of their blades.”

But when the Africans raised their glasses
in a toast, “To Christopher Come-Be-Louse.
Deadman walking,” the Admiral felt as if a tremor
had shaken the foundation of the island.
The Admiral wanted to run away, but where?
He was duty-bound to answer the call of overseeing
the town, so he waited for the last African to leave
before he paid his debt for the night with Rosie,
who asked, “Same time next week, Cuban?”

The Admiral grunted goodbye, and as he staggered
up Main Street, he wondered when he’d hear,
the sound of Africans marching along the Roaring
River, sunlight glinting off their machetes, the tools
of their ancestors, chanting the words of their liberator,
“We must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.”

Geoffrey Philp is the author of five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. His poems have been published in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, sx salon, The Johannesburg Review of Books, Bearden’s  Odyssey Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden, and Crab Orchard Review. A recipient of the Luminary Award from the Consulate of Jamaica (2015), Philp’s work is featured on The Poetry Rail at The Betsy in an homage to 12 writers that shaped Miami culture. He is currently working on a children ‘s book, “My Name is Marcus”

THE BALLAD OF BLACK MATTHEW/REAL WARRIORS DUB

KEVAN “SCRUFFMOUTH” CAMERON

THE BALLAD OF BLACK MATTHEW

Bonjour, Bienvenue, Akwaaba;
mi din dey name is Mathieu de Costa
“First to arrive” like di griotte Itah say
“First to arrive” from way back inna di day.
Coast to coast mi reach alla di peoples dem
An upstanding member in societies of men
The Order of Good Cheer, I took dem from there to here
what mi neva know a so nu coulda fear.
Yu see mi navigate di ship across di sea,
but dem neva name a piece a wata afta me,
dem call me naigre, Negro, an’ Moor
I am a free Blackman upon Canadian shores
Mi link up wid alla di native peoples dem,
from di great white north down to brownin’ Caribbean,
indigenous, original and West Indian
unu pay top dolla’ to me fi fin’ di land.
Mi work for du Gua, sieur de Monts an’ Champlain,
discovery an’ conquest is di name a di game
dem pay me fi play, so mi cyaan complain,
hold mi fi a big ransom to dash di slave trade.
Me speak too much Creole, dem cyaan sell mi down di riva,
big money contract so mi ‘ave to deliva
so ‘ear mi say,
Bienvenue, Bonjour, Akwaaba;
mi din dey name is Mathieu da Costa.

Me come from Congo by way of Portugal
No matta what di language mi respon’ to di call
Me serve in Canada, Acadie, et Nouvelle France
een Swart genamd Matheu inna Old Amsterdam.
I lef’ di mothaland from di coas’ of Angola
Sailed up to Spain so dat I could say, Hola
translate or transatlantic crusad victim
I am a free man, so me learn fi speak pidgin.
Interpreter and sailor to all di known lands,
Black Matthew da Costa, the Great African.
The Blackamoors that ruled in Spain were overthrown
Asiento for pirates from di Papal throne,
if yu cyaan chat di lankwij when yu buil’ Babel towa,
yu nah get di cultcha an’ yu cyaan ‘old di powa.
So dem sen’ companies an’ Christians pon missions,
Dem kidnap me fi interpret an’ listen,
So mi say
Bienvenue, Bonjour, Akwaaba;
mi din dey name is Mathieu D’Acosta.

I fluent in Flemish, French, Dutch an’ Iroquois,
mi chat trade pidgin Basque, an’ even Patois,
Miqmaq, Italian, Swahili, Portugese,
German, Arabic, Spanish an’ Congolese,
Abenaki, Catalan, Twi, an’ Acadian,
I am the first Blackman to be Canadian,
So mi say again,
Bienvenue, Bonjour, Akwaaba;
mi din dey name is Mathieu deCoste.

I navigate di planet an’ alla di seven seas,
mi tell yuh Whiteman bring death an’ disease,
conspiracy to kidnap, tief, an’ colonize,
committing crimes against humanity in front my eyes.
‘ow can I work fah dis man dat I detest?
Dem aks mi fah di key to open up di treasure chest,
dem haffi buil’ bigga ships to trade in slavery
time fi use mi moral compass an’ sum bravery.
So me refuse to give furtha direction
to di Dutchman, an’ get accuse’ a insurrection,
dem lock me up
an’ say
‘Matheus deCost,
you can neva stop di Afrikan Holocaust.
The European battleships are ready for war
so who in this world do you think you are?’
Fi di las’ time,
Bienvenue, Bonjour, Akwaaba;
mi din dey name is Mathieu de Coste.

REAL WARRIORS DUB

Whappen, yu nuh see di gyal get tief?
Zionite workin’ fah di Babylon beas’
For real, yu nuh see di gyal get snuff?
Dem pin di tail ‘pon di mout’ name Scruff.

Enough! Reason like a real Rootsman.
Traditional respek like a true African.
Unite against the enemy inna we own lan’
But the slaves cyaan seem fi unnastan’
Dem talk as if a shotta
But white gyal blow inna yu nose
Yu big up whores and sellout di afros
A natural dread like I know how it goes
So no botha wid no comment ‘pon mi clothes.
Yu gwaan like fassy chump
Tief a gyal and pure pump and dump
Yu tell di gyal ‘ow ‘igh she affi jump
Punany kilos in Vanrock weigh more than she will ever be
A master is a slave widout di key

So come and step to me
Scruffmouth inna Burnaby
The global god of sport an’ poetry
A solo natty revolutionary
Me nuh carry weaponry
I and I is all the I need.

See if yu could read,
Dem ‘ave a ting call Marvel Team-Up,
Dem gun her down col’ afta she get gangfuck,
Mi ‘old up mi hand because mi haffi say enough,
Di times get tougher but dem cyaan tes’ Scruff-
Mouth!

So big up unu natty.
Playas play on like football,
Real Warriors respon’ to di call,
From moon up to down,
I check for all di youts inna me town,
A fi dem mi haffi throw down

So big up unu natty.
Playas play on like football,
Real Warriors respon’ to di call,
From moon up to down,
I check for all di youts inna me town,
A fi dem mi haffi throw down.

Whappen, yu nuh see di gyal get tief?
Zionite workin’ fah di Babylon beas’
For real, yu nuh see di gyal get snuff?
Dem pin di tail ‘pon di mout’ name Scruff.

Kevan Anthony Cameron is passionate about the written and spoken word. He grew up in Sherwood Park, Alberta before moving to Burnaby, British Columbia to attend Simon Fraser University. Cameron was a scholar-athlete and professional soccer player before writing poems and performing for film, television, commercials and new media opened new doors for Scruffmouth to write and perform his own original works professionally. As founder and creative director for Black Dot Roots and Culture Collective, Kevan initiates relevant and groundbreaking projects in Canada such as Hogan’s Alley Poetry Festival in Vancouver to satisfy the vision for the educational, creative and celebratory group that supports the reclamation of cultural space for indigenous peoples of African descent at home and abroad. Scruffmouth has toured internationally and is an established performer of spoken dub poetics. After moving to Ottawa, Ontario; Cameron continues to work in literary arts, film, television, and new media as a publisher and as a producer.

Bearing and other poems

BRITNEY GABBIDON

Bearing

Caladiums fan out
between the small hills of bone
of my hips like waves,
stretching skin thinner
so sunlight can pass through,

fatten their pink veins
until they swell
into stretch marks,
make a mother of me.

Reverie in the Seventh Month, Growing Bananas

I wish to grow as many hands
as a banana tree
with peeling broad-back leaves,
yellowing
and a red-purple braid
to hit my knee as I sway
my body at ease
the wind– turbulent, entrancing.

The Sculpted Women at Good Hope Estate

To the woman with the weighted neck,

Your torso was made snake,
made elongated, sag-skinned thing
and your neck giraffe’d
to carry the mass of your sister
and the onus of mosaic between you
You were stripped of your cloth
and given bronze to slope your chest
Hilly backside and river-mouth legs,
you carry yourself so well.

To the washerwoman, Abba,

They say you were born washing.

We must be birthed from the womb of declaration
Whose naming so paramount
as to buckle back, compress breasts against belly
bust hips, unseam thighs to clean cloth?

I heard they unclothed you
when you begged to be called
by another name.

Britney Gabbidon is a poet from Kingston, Jamaica. She was a shortlisted candidate for the Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Helen Zell: Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry competition in 2018 and 2020. Her work has been published in Interviewing the Caribbean, The Caribbean Writer, Intersect and New Voices: Selected by Lorna Goodison, Poet Laureate of Jamaica 2017-2020.

Behind the Bailey Town House

GEORGIO RUSSELL

Gulls hover in a squawk song over my stretch
yard-a sea. They holler hoarse as a craving
heart, plunge now and then for what
among the stingrays may liberate them
briefly of beating wings. Young Gullah-tongue
bui, bony like Eleuthera, I sip the last ginger
of a malt then offer its cap as if bread. See how
the starving mistake my litter for manna, see how
I grin like some god or child at the disarray
dance, each beggar bird eager in this sunhot
to sate a dream, misled like migrants by a splash
of the inedible. Now they are shadows
feathered heavy with salt–look now they war
into a new ascension, having done nothing
save seek the alms of a callous Colossus.
Watchful cross the backyard gulf: Miami spanning
my horizon whole. Soon, some black epiphany
grows me. Then what pleasure in torturing
these gulls is gone. Their trumpets tear into me
something like sympathy, repentance, an ache–
an ache burning worse than abandon.

Georgio Russell is a Bahamian and recent graduate from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. He is a past winner of the Ian Randle Publisher’s prize, the Peepal Tree Press Prize, and the Mervyn Morris Prize for poetry. Russell was also a featured poet for the British Council’s project, “Unwritten Poems: Exploring Caribbean Engagement in WW1.” He currently lives in Brampton, Ontario, where he teaches English for Educate Academy.  He has poems forthcoming in yolk! Literary Journal.