ELECTRICITY COMES TO COCOA BOTTOM
Then all the children of Cocoa Bottom
went to see Mr. Samuel’s electric lights.
They camped on the grass bank outside his house,
their lamps filled with oil,
waiting for sunset,
watching the sky turn yellow, orange.
Grannie Patterson across the road
peeped through the crack in her porch door.
The cable was drawn like a pencil line across the sun.
The fireflies waited in the shadows,
their lanterns off.
The kling-klings swooped in from the hills,
congregating in the orange trees.
A breeze coming home from sea held its breath;
bamboo lining the dirt road stopped its swaying,
and evening came as soft as chiffon curtains:
Mr. Samuel smiling on the verandah –
a silhouette against the yellow shimmer behind him –
and there arising such a gasp,
such a fluttering of wings,
such a swaying, swaying.
Light! Marvellous light!
And then the breeze rose up from above the trees,
swelling and swelling into a wind
such that the long grass bent forward
stretching across the bank like so many bowed heads.
And a voice in the wind whispered:
Is there one among us to record this moment?
But there was none –
no one (except for a few warm rocks
hidden among mongoose ferns) even heard a sound.
Already the children of Cocoa Bottom
had lit their lamps for the dark journey home,
and it was too late –
the moment had passed.
THE ASCANIA DOCKS IN SOUTHAMPTON, CIRCA 1955
All that’s left now is a black and white photo from an old Daily Mirror
One thousand West Indian immigrants on board the Ascania–
mostly men in felt hats.
Flooding the decks, they lean over the rails,
their shoulders pressed together.
On the far left is someone’s Uncle Morris.
He has left behind half an acre of yellow yam
and a girl with a pretty black mole on her upper lip.
The dream in his eyes shines like the lighted window far away,
where by candle light,
the girl washes her hair in a plastic basin.
Wearing new shoes and a relative’s old wedding suit,
the young man behind him searches the dock for the Queen.
Certainly, she will come to greet him,
her gloved hand waving like the white wing of a dove.
Short men. Tall men. Husky men. Frail men.
Men with five pounds in their pockets
and a cardboard suitcase with a broken latch.
Come to the Mother Country
The Mother Country needs you.
The cry crossed the Atlantic,
ringing from Trinidad and Tobago
and along the curve of the Leewards,
past Anguilla and on to the Cockpit Country of Jamaica.
Brave men. They packed their bags,
their ancestors’ fear of ships already strained from their blood,
the Atlantic spread before them like a banquet table.
Now on the upper deck, the fifth person from the right –
a man smiles, rubbing his chin.
Union Jacks are stuffed in the bags beneath his eyes.
Later, he will take a train to Victoria Station.
In the cold and the rain, there will be no one to meet him.
He will work in an asbestos plant,
rent a flat with a mattress
and a clothes line strung from one corner to the other.
He will dream of children playing on warm rocks by the Martha Brae,
their mothers bathing silently in the water.
THE GIFT OF TONGUES
When Daddy got baptised in Yallahs River,
he rose up speaking –
His eyes shut tight as a newborn’s,
someone wrapped him in a white sheet
and led him out of the water.
The brethren clapping and singing redemption,
the white-wings flew
from tree to tree along the winding bank.
Daddy would never be the same –
he was filled,
the tongues always waiting to erupt from his lips,
Week after week, he had knelt at the altar,
his mouth open,
waiting to be anointed Child of God.
Now, at Wednesday night prayer meetings,
Daddy flung up his arms
in the air
his feet keeping time on the red tile floor.
Surely, he had the gift of tongues;
Daddy wouldn’t pretend,
Years have passed now, and I understand:
Daddy spoke for the feeling, not just the language.
It’s like after a woman’s been in labour for days,
and then a small body is pushed from between her legs,
Or like after you’ve trekked Blue Mountain peak,
and you reach it,
but there are no words to say,
Shali mahi wa.
I picture myself an old woman on a sofa.
Blue light slants through the blinds
and makes horizontal marks like notepaper on the wall.
I fill in the lines:
Oh shali waa,
shali mahi wa.