Spotlighting Pan-African Poetry

Biography

From the Shadows of the Sun

Enlarge poem

We came from secret mango-lined beaches
where tides lick the shorelines
like the edge of a lover’s lips,
where setting suns run fingers along the flesh of the sea.
We came from sweat
and shipwrecks rolled into our neighbor’s roti,
the sweet of tantie’s cassava pone
and plantains to remind us of Africa
swimming around our bones.

These memories,
married to our strides,
bore witness to the corruptions of the marketplace,
the force-ripened girls
their red lipstick, a frame
to the carousing laughter
rising to mask the echoes
of aborted wings battering against stomachs
middrifted to the wind.

And there were young boys,
toy soldiers with ganja riding on their breath
as if it could knock down Babylon
and build a world
where they wouldn’t have to flash knives
for butter
or father sons before they stopped believing
in fairytales.

These babies
and battlescars
were a rite of passage,
a game of hop-scotch,
of statistics in boxes that trapped stumbling feet
beneath the concrete.

Luckily we leaped over
and landed safely at home
where we cooked up stories of spirits
and soucouyants by the light of the stove
never dreaming that for some
tales of horror were real.
We clung to the amulet
of our mother’s love,
protection against the curses of men
scavenging for tender meat
to sacrifice on the altars of their beds
and though untouched,
the whisperings of the tragedies
fingered our innocence.

There were times when I heard the roar
of HIV flood the bloodstream of the streets
and watched as men and women surrendered to the currents
squealing in the suicidal ecstasy of the waves.
A game of Russian roulette was played
at fetes and parties
where daring hips dodged between soca beats
and bullets of disease,
bodies dead in midthrust
drowned in the sweat of their lovemaking.

But despite these dancehalls of death
life rolled along
and Carnival Monday came.
Young girls slipped into the sequined skins
of their costumes
pawning diamonds glistening between thighs
for escapes beneath the bellies
of white tourists
looking for their Caribbean Queens.

And even as their savage cries
ricocheted against the sky
it never interrupted our childhood,
just another lewd song
in the soundtrack of our memory
It never scarred the beauty of our island
glowing in its imperfect splendor
as we took turns spying on the sea
through the curtains of coconut trees,
its rolling flesh red
and blushing
from the kisses of that setting sun.

2009

Desiree Bailey

Featured Poem:

Hemorrhaging of a Native Tongue

Enlarge poem

People who only know the Caribbean
as palm trees and turquoise seas
ask me what language
we speak in Trinidad and Tobago.
I answer, “English.”
“We speak English.”

But as soon as these words escape my lungs
as silent rage rushes out behind it
scorching my insides
releasing an aftertaste of fire
and charred history.

You see
our English is not the English
spoken in Buckingham places
and high afternoon teas.
Our English bears the remnants
of imperialistic invasions,
the pillaging of minds and bodies,
only to discard them in foreign fields for profit.

And so, to remember the language of that forgotten land
we began to re-member your English
infusing ritualistic rhythms in between
the pockets of your verse.

We spoke in macheted syllables
that bled blood
mangled and diluted
by your white diction.
We sang with thick tongues
that rebelled against anglicized pronunciations:
the dead arms of Africa
throwing ghostly spears at every word
mutilating sentences
like black backs in sugar cane fields,
disembodying its structure
restitching adjectives and verbs
making ordinary nouns objective
the body’s abortion
of the language of the Queen.

Some people tell me that some Trinis sound British
but no matter how true
I refuse to hear it.
Cause when the British hear music
they may dance
but when any Trini hears the pounding of a drum
we wine and grind to the beat.
The music is our exorcist
and we pray that with every bead of sweat
we drain every ounce of Europe
that linger beneath our skins.
Maybe the bending and twisting
of our hips and thighs
will divide the pain
of the contortion
of our lost mothers
whose native tongues
were hemorrhaged in the hull
of a shackled ship.

People say that my accent has escaped me
after being immersed in New York City streets
but they’re not really listening
because if they peeled back my words
like the flesh of the master burned
in plantations by men
who refused to be emasculated,
the stench of rebellion
would invade their lungs,
robbing them of the opportunity
to say otherwise.

Unlike my great-great grandfather
who was branded with the name Joko,
my accent is free.
It comes and goes as it pleases.
But the spirit of its past
will haunt my thoughts for an eternity.
And until it finds the words
of its original dialect
to scrawl across the stones of its tomb
it will never find a sacred place to rest.

2008

How does this featured poem make you feel?

  • Amazement (3)
  • Pride (3)
  • Optimism (2)
  • Anger (3)
  • Delight (0)
  • Inspiration (3)
  • Reflection (5)
  • Captivation (3)
  • Peace (0)
  • Amusement (0)
  • Sorrow (1)
  • Vigour (1)
  • Hope (0)
  • Sadness (1)
  • Fear (0)
  • Jubilation (0)

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading the poem titled, “The hemorrhaging of a native tongue”, As I read along while listening to the power in your voice as you read aloud your deep thoughts of the conscious knowledge of our african ancestry. I am a fan as you have with articulating your words.

    Brakel Gross
  2. This is something! Wow. I felt the hurt, the feeling of ‘betrayal’ and such anger that speaks volume of the forced acculturation. Here is how it feels to be ‘powerless’ in the face of all the power on earth.

    Bello, Aminu Adamu
  3. Amazing. I wrote about your essay “A Retrograde” for my English class and it got me wanting to read more of your work. You write with such patience and give every word life.

    AQ

Your email address will not be published.

Biography

A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Desiree has lived in New York for over 13 years. Still, the Caribbean will never leave her.

She believes that the written and spoken word can set fire to the positive action and social change that is waiting in our bones.

Desiree Bailey

Biography

A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Desiree has lived in New York for over 13 years. Still, the Caribbean will never leave her.

She believes that the written and spoken word can set fire to the positive action and social change that is waiting in our bones.

From the Shadows of the Sun

Enlarge poem

We came from secret mango-lined beaches
where tides lick the shorelines
like the edge of a lover’s lips,
where setting suns run fingers along the flesh of the sea.
We came from sweat
and shipwrecks rolled into our neighbor’s roti,
the sweet of tantie’s cassava pone
and plantains to remind us of Africa
swimming around our bones.

These memories,
married to our strides,
bore witness to the corruptions of the marketplace,
the force-ripened girls
their red lipstick, a frame
to the carousing laughter
rising to mask the echoes
of aborted wings battering against stomachs
middrifted to the wind.

And there were young boys,
toy soldiers with ganja riding on their breath
as if it could knock down Babylon
and build a world
where they wouldn’t have to flash knives
for butter
or father sons before they stopped believing
in fairytales.

These babies
and battlescars
were a rite of passage,
a game of hop-scotch,
of statistics in boxes that trapped stumbling feet
beneath the concrete.

Luckily we leaped over
and landed safely at home
where we cooked up stories of spirits
and soucouyants by the light of the stove
never dreaming that for some
tales of horror were real.
We clung to the amulet
of our mother’s love,
protection against the curses of men
scavenging for tender meat
to sacrifice on the altars of their beds
and though untouched,
the whisperings of the tragedies
fingered our innocence.

There were times when I heard the roar
of HIV flood the bloodstream of the streets
and watched as men and women surrendered to the currents
squealing in the suicidal ecstasy of the waves.
A game of Russian roulette was played
at fetes and parties
where daring hips dodged between soca beats
and bullets of disease,
bodies dead in midthrust
drowned in the sweat of their lovemaking.

But despite these dancehalls of death
life rolled along
and Carnival Monday came.
Young girls slipped into the sequined skins
of their costumes
pawning diamonds glistening between thighs
for escapes beneath the bellies
of white tourists
looking for their Caribbean Queens.

And even as their savage cries
ricocheted against the sky
it never interrupted our childhood,
just another lewd song
in the soundtrack of our memory
It never scarred the beauty of our island
glowing in its imperfect splendor
as we took turns spying on the sea
through the curtains of coconut trees,
its rolling flesh red
and blushing
from the kisses of that setting sun.

2009

Featured Poem:

Hemorrhaging of a Native Tongue

Enlarge poem

People who only know the Caribbean
as palm trees and turquoise seas
ask me what language
we speak in Trinidad and Tobago.
I answer, “English.”
“We speak English.”

But as soon as these words escape my lungs
as silent rage rushes out behind it
scorching my insides
releasing an aftertaste of fire
and charred history.

You see
our English is not the English
spoken in Buckingham places
and high afternoon teas.
Our English bears the remnants
of imperialistic invasions,
the pillaging of minds and bodies,
only to discard them in foreign fields for profit.

And so, to remember the language of that forgotten land
we began to re-member your English
infusing ritualistic rhythms in between
the pockets of your verse.

We spoke in macheted syllables
that bled blood
mangled and diluted
by your white diction.
We sang with thick tongues
that rebelled against anglicized pronunciations:
the dead arms of Africa
throwing ghostly spears at every word
mutilating sentences
like black backs in sugar cane fields,
disembodying its structure
restitching adjectives and verbs
making ordinary nouns objective
the body’s abortion
of the language of the Queen.

Some people tell me that some Trinis sound British
but no matter how true
I refuse to hear it.
Cause when the British hear music
they may dance
but when any Trini hears the pounding of a drum
we wine and grind to the beat.
The music is our exorcist
and we pray that with every bead of sweat
we drain every ounce of Europe
that linger beneath our skins.
Maybe the bending and twisting
of our hips and thighs
will divide the pain
of the contortion
of our lost mothers
whose native tongues
were hemorrhaged in the hull
of a shackled ship.

People say that my accent has escaped me
after being immersed in New York City streets
but they’re not really listening
because if they peeled back my words
like the flesh of the master burned
in plantations by men
who refused to be emasculated,
the stench of rebellion
would invade their lungs,
robbing them of the opportunity
to say otherwise.

Unlike my great-great grandfather
who was branded with the name Joko,
my accent is free.
It comes and goes as it pleases.
But the spirit of its past
will haunt my thoughts for an eternity.
And until it finds the words
of its original dialect
to scrawl across the stones of its tomb
it will never find a sacred place to rest.

2008

How does this featured poem make you feel?

  • Amazement (3)
  • Pride (3)
  • Optimism (2)
  • Anger (3)
  • Delight (0)
  • Inspiration (3)
  • Reflection (5)
  • Captivation (3)
  • Peace (0)
  • Amusement (0)
  • Sorrow (1)
  • Vigour (1)
  • Hope (0)
  • Sadness (1)
  • Fear (0)
  • Jubilation (0)

From the Shadows of the Sun

Enlarge poem

We came from secret mango-lined beaches
where tides lick the shorelines
like the edge of a lover’s lips,
where setting suns run fingers along the flesh of the sea.
We came from sweat
and shipwrecks rolled into our neighbor’s roti,
the sweet of tantie’s cassava pone
and plantains to remind us of Africa
swimming around our bones.

These memories,
married to our strides,
bore witness to the corruptions of the marketplace,
the force-ripened girls
their red lipstick, a frame
to the carousing laughter
rising to mask the echoes
of aborted wings battering against stomachs
middrifted to the wind.

And there were young boys,
toy soldiers with ganja riding on their breath
as if it could knock down Babylon
and build a world
where they wouldn’t have to flash knives
for butter
or father sons before they stopped believing
in fairytales.

These babies
and battlescars
were a rite of passage,
a game of hop-scotch,
of statistics in boxes that trapped stumbling feet
beneath the concrete.

Luckily we leaped over
and landed safely at home
where we cooked up stories of spirits
and soucouyants by the light of the stove
never dreaming that for some
tales of horror were real.
We clung to the amulet
of our mother’s love,
protection against the curses of men
scavenging for tender meat
to sacrifice on the altars of their beds
and though untouched,
the whisperings of the tragedies
fingered our innocence.

There were times when I heard the roar
of HIV flood the bloodstream of the streets
and watched as men and women surrendered to the currents
squealing in the suicidal ecstasy of the waves.
A game of Russian roulette was played
at fetes and parties
where daring hips dodged between soca beats
and bullets of disease,
bodies dead in midthrust
drowned in the sweat of their lovemaking.

But despite these dancehalls of death
life rolled along
and Carnival Monday came.
Young girls slipped into the sequined skins
of their costumes
pawning diamonds glistening between thighs
for escapes beneath the bellies
of white tourists
looking for their Caribbean Queens.

And even as their savage cries
ricocheted against the sky
it never interrupted our childhood,
just another lewd song
in the soundtrack of our memory
It never scarred the beauty of our island
glowing in its imperfect splendor
as we took turns spying on the sea
through the curtains of coconut trees,
its rolling flesh red
and blushing
from the kisses of that setting sun.

2009

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading the poem titled, “The hemorrhaging of a native tongue”, As I read along while listening to the power in your voice as you read aloud your deep thoughts of the conscious knowledge of our african ancestry. I am a fan as you have with articulating your words.

    Brakel Gross
  2. This is something! Wow. I felt the hurt, the feeling of ‘betrayal’ and such anger that speaks volume of the forced acculturation. Here is how it feels to be ‘powerless’ in the face of all the power on earth.

    Bello, Aminu Adamu
  3. Amazing. I wrote about your essay “A Retrograde” for my English class and it got me wanting to read more of your work. You write with such patience and give every word life.

    AQ

Your email address will not be published.