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Featured Writer - Tanya Shirley. Works by: Danielle Boodoo Fortune, M’Bala, Vashti Bowlah, Janine Horsford, St. Hope Earl McKenzie, Tammi Browne-Bannister, Richard Georges, Patrice M. Charles, Charlene Elson-Gustard, Kimala Thompson-Hitchins

Issue 5, June 2015


Susumba’s Book Bag is a quarterly digital magazine dedicated to showcasing writing of the highest grade from new, emerging and established Caribbean writers at home and in the Diaspora. The magazine is an offshoot of the Caribbean arts and entertainment online magazine Susumba.com We will publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, interviews as well as reviews of Caribbean books. Occasionally, we will also publish one-act plays and monologues. Currently, we do not offer remuneration for the writings we publish, but we believe that writers should be paid for their work, and so we working on a way to do that in the near future.

Submission Guidelines We accept a maximum of 5 poems and 2 short stories at a time and we have no problem with simultaneous submissions but ask that you notify us immediately if the work is accepted elsewhere. We have no bias of genre or style. Our only requirement is that it be good, so send us your best stuff. Short stories should range from 2,500 to 3,500 words while flash fiction is from 10 600 words. We prefer our poetry to err on the side of Mervyn Morris, the shorter the better. We do accept longer work but if your poem is at the 33 to 64 line tipping point (longer than a page), please only submit two poems at a time. We try to keep our response time to a month, but alas we are human and so it may go beyond that. If you have not heard from us in 90 days, please feel free to send us a query. Though we publish quarterly, we currently accept submissions throughout the year, except in December. There is no reading fee, and submissions are only accepted via email. Send submissions to info@susumba.com Subject: Lastname-Firstname-Submission. Send your work as an attachment (.doc, .txt or .rtf), not in the body of the email. Works sent in the body of the email will not be accepted. Send submissions to info@susumba.com Subject: Lastname-Firstname-Submission

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Growing up is hard. You know this. You not sure you can manage it at all. Who in their right mind could? You?

ALL OVER AGAIN

by ADZIKO SIMBA GEGELE 1st prize Burt Award for Caribbean Literature

“An endearing, enduring paean to youthful joys, All Over Again resonates deeply,... ” Trinidad Guardian

An exuberantly hilarious coming of age novel! www.facebook.com/BlueMoonPublishing PO Box 5464 Liguanea PO, Kgn 6, Ja.

“Makes you want to read it all over again!” The Gleaner

@blumoonbooks www.blumoonbooks.com

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Blouse & Skirt Books


SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Contents 6

Against the Walls

Tammi Browne-Bannister

10

the thug with the tattoed teardrop

M’Bala

11

Freeze Frame

12

Youth

14

Girl

15

Leaving Coal Mine

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

18

Banana

Kimala Thompson-Hitchins

19

River Mooma

Kashka Hemans

20

Renta Repeat

21

Kenneth and Ramesh

Vashti Bowlah

28

Griot

Richard Georges

29

Birth In The Moment Freedom Comes

30

The Heavy Anchor

31

Indeed Full Circle

Patrice M. Charles

32

Mango Justice

St. Hope Earl McKenzie

33

Melody

35

Not Today

Charlene Elson-Gustard

36

Poetic Tokens in the Rubble

Tanya Shirley

Janine Horsford

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Editor’s Note It’s been a year since the birth of Susumba’s Book Bag and during that time it has been my pleasure to meet the work of some great poets and short story writers. Yet, what is most inspiring is the potential that is revealed with every submission cycle. It is awe inspiring and heartening to see the number of people who claim the title writer.

Tanya

Tanya Batson-Savage Editor in Chief

A publication by Blue Moon Publishing Cover Illustration: ‘The Face’ by Staysean Daley Editor: Tanya Batson-Savage tanya@susumba.com Sales:

info@susumba.com

PO Box 5464, Liguanea PO, Kingston, Jamaica W.I.

www.susumba.com

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Against the Walls by Tammi Browne-Bannister I saw him stomping to make sure ground was beneath him. His eyes squinted. He wobbled like a

top. I heard him complaining for dead people’s voices, how they occupied his head. One time Daddy told me he saw my grandee, wearing her blue, polyester frock with the fade-out sunflowers. My grandee, whose chirping, bird-like harmony swung deep in from the valley, caused him to mis-walk, so he say. My grandee made him stumble, not the rum in his blood. Daddy swore up and down and all-round at me how her voice floated into his ears, past the hard-ears-hole that turned him into a stubborn man. Somewhere in the coral brackets of his mind, he heard her late one night, when he was on his way home from the rum shop. He said she said, ‘Mine yuhself. Walk good but, walk fast cause night-time mek fuh jumbie patrol.’ Daddy said he bun rubbers, smoked all the cars that night. ‘Them spirits love ugly,’ he looked at me with those crazy, staring eyes that wanted to burn me out of my own skin. He hated the night, yet, he wouldn’t come home early from drinking. He said his rum-friends told him, ‘Yuh safe as long as you listen to us and back-back into yuh house. Dem spirits only attack from behind. They can’t stand when you see them. If you doan walk backwards, they gine follow you inside and when you drop sleep, they gine choke you off. Is so how people get dead in them sleep.’ Daddy listened to his rum-friends and so walking backward into the house became a ritual. It was a funny concept, this power the dead held over the living. Why anyone fraid a dead was beyond my own understanding. I’m not afraid of my dead grandmother. She did the world for me when she was alive. She loved me. I loved her. I asked mummy about this one day. Church or no church, mummy believed in two Gods. She believed in the God of light and the god of darkness. ‘Satan is one liar. He has the power to make bad tings possible,’ she said with a knowing look on her face. Whenever I saw the veins in her neck stand up, I knew she was telling the truth–cause she was wasting her breath to nail her point across to me. Still, I wasn’t afraid of no jumbie I couldn’t see but, not everybody believe in this. There were people who were afraid of what they couldn’t see. I thought it made more sense to fraid what I could see. I found this more threatening than anything else. Deep down something pulled at my heartstring

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Against the Walls Tammi Browne-Bannister

and told me all of this jumbie-fraid-business was due to the kind of mind you cultivate for yourself. Plus is something I hear mummy cuss daddy with almost every night. My daddy was frightened for what he couldn’t see, whether or not he knew and loved the person in life, in his mind the dead had more power than who living. Those same rum-friends told him that if he ever had a relationship with any woman who died that that woman’s spirit would choke off my mummy if he wasn’t careful. Daddy put that in the back of his head. One of his long-time exes had passed on from cancer – years ago, before I was even born. As far as I was made to understand, this woman never knew my mother and my mother didn’t know this woman. My mummy came long after that relationship was over. So there was no reason for anyone to strangle-off anyone. My daddy didn’t think so. Anything his friends told him was the gospel. Daddy kept a whole clove of garlic in each pants pocket for greater protection against the shadowy creatures that lurked at night-time. Our front door was swollen from rain that jammed it against the hardwood floor. It rubbed and grated against the wood such that there were deep scores in the floorboards like terraces slashed across a field. I heard when daddy came in that night. The door groaned and the keys jingled as he locked it. Shortly after there was loud thudding. High pitched screaming. Feet stomping. Things crashing and tumbling. My heartbeat quickened. Fright hustled me out of bed into the front room. I saw mummy with the kerosene lamp in one hand and a butcher’s knife that she kept under her mattress in the other hand. She held the light up. Furniture was knocked over. Smashed ornaments were scattered everywhere and I saw daddy, sitting on top the dining room table. He was panting and sweating. His hand trembled as he wiped his face with a washrag that he always carried. When he moved the rag away from his face, I saw nothing but shame in his eyes when he saw us. ‘What happen in here?’ mummy held the light up to daddy’s face and I saw him squinting from the brightness. Daddy hastily jumped back from the knifepoint in mummy’s hand. ‘Someting fall pon me, mus be a santapeed.’ ‘A centipede? So you sitting on top the table for it to crawl round and sting up who-so-ever you left it to sting up inside the house? What kinda man you be?’ The light from the kerosene lamp circled the floor and walls of the dining room. ‘Well, arm…’ ‘Nutten well about a centipede sting. Come off the table and help us find it, man.’ My mummy knew better–that daddy didn’t make all that noise for one little centipede. She knew his fear but, she decided to indulge him. The light swept every inch of the wall, the dining room floor and in the front room.

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Against the Walls Tammi Browne-Bannister

My foot brushed against something on the floor. Whatever it was I couldn’t help myself and I screamed. As I scrambled over to the other side of the room, daddy screeched, hopped and scrambled over to where I was. Mummy spun round to look at us, ‘Where it is? Show me,’ she flashed the lamplight at our faces. I pointed to where I was standing before. She ambled over there and shone the light onto the hardwood floor. Next thing I saw mummy bend down to have a closer look. She ran her fingers over this thing. It looked as if she was playing around with it. I wondered if it was dead. I left her hovering over it. No way was I going to leave where I was to go anywhere to look at that wicked creature. Even daddy looked at mummy with this mortified expression mixed with disgust on his face. It seemed as if he was asking himself how she could do something like that. But, I’ve seen it many times. When a man cut style on his household (ignored a leaking sink, left the stinking trash to breathe maggots in the bin, forgot to pay the bills), a woman picked up as if he didn’t exist–it was out a necessity–so it seemed. In my mother’s eyes my father lost his value when he failed to be useful–other than for sex, I heard the next door neighbour say one day. I squirmed as mummy picked up the thing and stood slowly with it inside her hand. She threw off her long mouth in annoyance. “See yuh santapeed dey,” she pitched what she was holding at daddy’s chest. Daddy flinched as he caught the thing mummy tossed at him. Mummy released one long suck of the teeth in annoyance. “Go back to sleep. Is the fake gold chain he does wear.” I peeped through the opening of my bedroom door. The light from the kerosene lamp cast shadows on mummy’s face and it made her look angry and evil. She glared at my father and she said, ‘If you fraid jumbie, come home early, better yet, stop where you live. And if you know you does see tings when night come, don’t drink rum.’ She marched off to bed, leaving daddy with the chain in his hands. Daddy turned and twisted the herring bone chain in his hands and he guffawed loud until tears came to his eyes. One long, hard steupse came from mummy’s bedroom. I hopped into bed. I felt my body sinking into the comfort of the mattress. I heard my father’s feet dragging towards his bedroom and I smiled to myself, staring at the shadows on the ceiling from the lamplight. Outside my window there was the penny-sized twinkling of moonlight through the clouds. Grumblings came through the wall between my bedroom and my parents’ room. I heard them whispering to each other in a hard kind of whisper. Each one sucked his or her teeth at the other. The bed creaked as they shifted in vexation. “You better get up early tomorrow to clean the front room cause I ain’t breaking my back over foolishness” I heard mummy tell daddy. Every time she opened her mouth to speak daddy grunted. Daddy knew not to get on mummy’s wrong side, especially at this ungodly time. I didn’t want to know the kind of mind he was in. I didn’t want to see the side of a man where he lost his manliness,

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Against the Walls Tammi Browne-Bannister

getting on soft soft, screaming, waking up the whole place from deep stillness, allowing a woman to rescue him. When I thought good of the situation, I concluded that the old saying was true. There’s a woman inside every man. I rolled onto my back and listened to my parents bicker until my mother yawned her last words, until there were no more sounds but her snores chiselling against the walls.

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M’Bala the thug with the tattoed teardrop this is the day that clang-iron day when the air we breathe turns to steel when we “cry no more look to the sky no more”

but at the corner of one eye we tattoo a teardrop a memory of softer times a fashion statement for our lost emotions.

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M’Bala

Freeze Frame this world grinds at me pieces of me flake off become stuck on clock faces tv screens i myself turn the grindstone bite at my reflection with moviesharp teeth a mad dog with tail ever too short and when the world freezes me into stills these are the pale white pictures like underbellies and I must laugh at the poses we assume to bend and complicate so simple a space

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Janine Horsford Youth What do I do with my youth but take it and make bread. Sweet bread, corn bread and bread that you make by first grating the cassava. Bread that will rest on their chest Bread that will singe their conscience. Bread that I share with the multitudes Bread that I wish to press to a single mouth. As the sun rises, I bake the bread my mother has taught me: small, uniform loaves. And when the night comes in, kind and whispering, I slide into the oven my father’s bread, which balloons over the rims of the pans.

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Janine Horsford

There are those who like bread, soft at the crust and butter at the centre (They do not wish to be reminded). Others – like my mother’s family from Les Coteaux and Moriah say –“Give it just a teaspoon of yeast and knead it tight– Gyul put muscle behind it.” And the Tobagonians feast on this bread, dense and resistant as the past. Asleep, an infinity of loaves enormous, golden, opens ahead of me, but the wealth my mother foreshadows is like flour through the sieve.

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Janine Horsford

Girl I learn all the duplicitous back roads. I learn love-haunt and leaf-dark. I learn the ease of treachery. I learn to wear clichĂŠ: a slinky tiger-print dress that loves the thighs. I learn the difference between red and white rum. I sip red rum from a communal tumbler. I learn how love hurts. I learn how love stuns. I learn to whisper. I see a side of myself climb out stilettoed. I learn love rockers and psalms. I learn I am the girl they sing about.

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Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné Leaving Coal Mine When I was young, full and fierce as a hunter’s moon I promised her I’d stay.

I swore I’d let no man take me from the place where she passed, forehead ablaze with forests of cocoa and fevered moths.

I wore charred wings in my hair for weeks after she left, I prayed to her in tongues of wild grasses and deep water.

Still, he came, followed me into the house’s dry cradle, waning and weak in the absence of her light.

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Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

He caught me by my grief ’s throat, blew smoke into my eyes to tame me.

Some nights, I turn to face him, her love lodged in my heart like an antler.

I have embroidered her name on my daughter’s left earlobe, scratched it on the underside of my best iron pots. I feed him the burnt bodies of moths when he is hungry, watch him grow steadily heavier, stiller, as solemn as timber.

Some mornings, my daughter’s face is as gold and soft as sunlight. I bless her in my mother’s tongue, wrap her in a shawl made from tree roots and the grey wool of young doves.

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Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

My mother, see how I’ve grown watery and thin between these white walls.

Coal Mine is a mouthful of earth in my memory, teeth against stone, dry lips against water, over and over again, amen.

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Kimisha Thompson-Hitchins Banana She notice the tree how it tall and lean with firm branches and a turgid trunk. She notice the banana on the tree look nice to eat. Blinded by the bright yellow fruit She never know the tree contaminated.

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Kashka Hemans River Mooma

-a this one mi like"the one with the locks with her hair nattynatty and tall long dung inna har bock an her knee back black-black so more time when sun hot twenty beads a diamond sweat gather over her mouth like a mustache?" -yes I. a my B dat-

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Kashka Hemans

Renta Repeat the thing stand up in him structure like a pound a renta yam him belch and taste it and it have him upset so all when it do digest it still deh-deh it bind him. Mother haffi purge him

is light when the bush break down the troubled world inside of him insides is a choir singing hallelujah walking in joy and freedom still them going to dish the same thing give him a morning and him stay how him stay him not going able pass it

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Kenneth and Ramesh by Vashti Bowlah

Kenneth B. Persad liked his cars the way he liked his women - exotic, easy to handle and built with the right curves. He was more than pleased when they responded to him with the touch of a button. Lana had been good company while he attended a Buyers’ Conference in Miami. She was neither exotic nor did she have all the right curves, but she was easy. The sand, sea and air - not that he had seen much of any - combined with female company was the perfect escape. The security officer stationed at the entrance to the gated community, raced from his seat to lift the metal barrier. Ken zoomed past the middle-aged man without acknowledging his wave. He pressed the remote to open the tall wrought-iron gate leading to his house, stopping his red Ferrari in the middle of the tiled driveway a short distance from his front door. He looked around for his gardener who had arrived for work minutes before he had left earlier that morning. He was pruning the fence near the water fountain while his young son was raking up the grass and dried leaves. Ken had met the boy a few times before during the school holidays. He was an inquisitive ten-year-old who dared to ask for a ride in his Ferrari. He might have considered the Range Rover on a good day, but thankfully, the boy’s father always kept him in check. Ken switched off the engine and exited. He called out to his gardener, pointing to the passenger seat. “Give me a hand with this luggage will you?” The boy rushed over at once, wiping his palms on his cotton shirt with the gardener quick on his heels. “Wow Uncle Ken, your car is so cool. When I get big I will save up and buy one just like this.” “Well good luck with that kid - and stop calling me uncle,” Ken replied, walking away. The gardener took out the luggage while his son walked around the car, examining every detail. “Hey! Watch it kid, not so close!” shouted Ken as he reached into his pocket for the keys to unlock the front door. “Sorry Uncle Ken.”

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Kenneth and Ramesh Vashti Bowlah

“I told you, I’m not your uncle!” “Don’t worry boss, he wouldn’t touch it again.” The gardener threw a hard glare at his son. “Go finish raking up the leaves until I come back.” The gardener watched as his son dropped his shoulders and walked away, dragging his feet. “Sorry boss, he’s just a kid and…” “Never mind that,” he cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Anyone came over to service the pool?” The gardener pulled the two suitcases along on its wheels, reaching the front door. “No boss… but…um…Miss Cheryl was looking for you this morning after you leave.” “And what did you tell her?” “I tell she you come back late last night and the airport lost your luggage so you went back to get it this morning. I don’t know nothing else boss,” the gardener averted his eyes. “But she was asking plenty questions and she get real vex when I say you not home.” “Don’t worry about that, she will calm down after I talk to her. Anything else?” “Well, your mother was here yesterday, and she was complaining how you was supposed to come back since Thursday for a board meeting.” Ken sighed. “And I’m sure that’s not all she complained about.” “Um…no. She say how she go take away the cars and your credit cards if you don’t start to be responsible like your brother.” Ken sucked his teeth. “How long have you been working for me?” “’Bout seven years boss.” “And how long has she been saying the same thing and making the same threats?” The gardener lowered his head, choosing silence. Ken opened the front door and stepped in, instructing his gardener to leave the suitcases against the wall. “All I hear from her is how she and my father started the business from scratch and turned it into the success it is today, or, why I can’t be like Marc and settle down with one woman, and if it wasn’t for her nothing would get done. But nothing I do is ever good enough because she always claim to know better.” He retrieved a small brown envelope from the antique desk drawer, stuck his head out the door and glanced around the yard. “Here, I see you’re almost done, nice job on sculpting the shrubs,” said Ken, handing the gardener the envelope. “Don’t forget to feed the dogs before you leave.” ***** While Ramesh cleaned the kennels and fed the two rottweilers, Ryan carried the garden tools and lawnmower into the tray of their white Datsun pick-up. As they drove out of the compound, Ryan

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Kenneth and Ramesh Vashti Bowlah

stared out the rear window with his knees pressed into the seat and head propped in his hands. “I want to have a super cool car like Uncle Ken one, and live in a big-big house like that one day,” he said with childhood wonderment. “Look boy! Sit down and stop staring, what I tell you about that?” Ramesh scolded his son. “But papa, that is a Ferrari sports car!” “I don’t care if it’s a bull cart on bicycle wheels - is not yours or mines - so just sit your tail down before I stop right here in the middle of the road and hit you some lash,” warned Ramesh. He then looked through the front windshield at the tall dark puffy clouds forming in the sky. “The rain look like it ready to come down, so let we try and reach home fast before your mother start to worry.” Ryan obeyed. “Uncle Bobby say how them cars is rear wheel drive with they engine in the middle and does have real speed. I tell him how your bossman have one and he will give me a ride in it one of these days,” he lifted his chin up high. Ramesh shook his head from side to side. “You spending too much time in Bobby garage and he putting all kinda thing in your head,” he said, his voice softer. He knew this wasn’t true and his good friend was only being nice to Ryan whenever he went next door to watch him work. Ramesh hoped that his son would someday lose his fascination for fast cars when he discovers the harsh realities of life. Kenneth B. Persad was born into wealth and didn’t seem to care whether a Sunday fell on a Wednesday. Ramesh had recently brought his son to work with him on weekends and school holidays and didn’t want him to suffer any kind of hurt or disappointment because of his admiration for his boss. Ryan also accompanied him on his other jobs maintaining the spreading green lawns of homes in and out of the area. Ramesh & Son’s Lawn Care & Odd Jobs had been doing well since Ramesh decided to approach other families for business and a few clients were also referred by his boss. Late afternoon had darkened when they arrived home. Ryan cleaned the tools and helped his father carry them to the back shed. When they were done, Ramesh opened the small brown envelope and gave his son some cash. “Thanks papa, I going and put it in my cash pan.” Ramesh knew he could never achieve the status of his boss, and could not stop Ryan from wanting to be like him. But it was important that Ramesh teach his son the value of earning his own money, since he didn’t have much else to offer him except to one day inherit their humble two bedroom house and a second-hand pick-up that had seen better days. By the time they got in the house, the rain was already pelting down on the galvanized roof. ***** The raindrops smashed onto the terra cotta clay roof tiles after a few hot and humid days of sunshine. When darkness came without warning, Ken secured the doors and windows and activated

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Kenneth and Ramesh Vashti Bowlah

the security alarm. He vaguely recalled his gardener mentioning a forecast from the meteorological office about heavy rains with possible flash flooding. He turned on his flat screen TV which stretched across the living room wall, switching channels until he settled for Nascar racing on the sports channel. The room brightened with the flash of lightning followed by roaring thunder. He turned off the television and searched through the refrigerator for any leftovers that could serve as dinner, only to be disappointed. He pulled out a beer and popped the cap, leaning against the kitchen counter with his ankles crossed. He thought of Cheryl and what she might have prepared for dinner tonight. He enjoyed her meals, no surprise why her catering business had prospered over the years. He tried calling her earlier but she had hung up the phone. He liked Cheryl - he liked her a lot - but she was the type of woman who wanted to settle down, have kids and the whole shebang including the white picket fence. She had brought up the topic of marriage again before he left for his trip almost a week ago, but he wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. He was still stung by her harsh and bitter words: ‘What can you call your own except your face? Your wealth is inherited and your parents and brother earn the money. If you take away your fancy cars and designer clothes, no other woman would give you a second look!’ He didn’t know why he remained attracted to her, or why she tolerated him for the past three years, especially since he had never given the whole marriage institution any serious thought. He considered calling her again, but his heart was hopeful that she would call the next day after she calmed down. Cheryl was nothing like Lana whom he had met a few times before through their business association. Lana asked no questions and expected nothing in return. He wasn’t expecting to bump into her at the conference, but one thing led to another and they both extended their stay by one night, checking into another hotel in Miami Beach. On reflection, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, but then, he hadn’t spent much time thinking about it. He had been angry with Cheryl and at his mother’s constant bickering. He raised his beer can to his mouth again. Nothing like a cold beer and a hot chick. He prayed that Lana didn’t call him anytime soon. He now thought of his younger brother and tried to recall the last time they had a meaningful conversation. Marc must be tucked in safely at his home being the responsible one, comforting his family under this harsh weather. His wife was a lovely woman but he never understood why his brother was in such a hurry to get married when there was so much to enjoy in life. His mother on the other hand, must be at home complaining about one thing or the other while his father feigned interest. He didn’t know why he also thought of Ramesh and his kid. The boy was an annoying little pest and asked too many questions and he wondered how his father put up with him. Did the kid have a mother? Where did they live? He knew it was a village somewhere in Central but couldn’t remember.

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Kenneth and Ramesh Vashti Bowlah

The swaying of the trees mingled with the rustling of the leaves as the rain continued its spell. Ken shuddered from the cold emptiness of the house and retired to bed after retrieving the electric blanket he had purchased on a trip to Europe. Lightning flashed again and the thunder roared even louder as the cold hard rain pelted the roof. He pulled the comforter tight over his shoulders and the entire house was suddenly thrown into darkness. He lay there in the dead calm of the night, except for the thunderstorm raging outside…and within. He felt a sudden urge to cry. ***** The rain was just as angry in the village where Ramesh had lived all of his life. Two plastic buckets were placed in the small living room to catch the raindrops leaking from the roof, while an enamel basin served the same purpose in the kitchen. His wife threw a cross look from across the dining table after every drop while she fed their three-year-old daughter, who sought comfort with every crash of thunder. Ryan sat next to them doing his Social Studies homework. Ramesh assured his wife that he would repair the leaks on the next day of sunshine and brought the opened newspaper to his face. “Papa?” Ryan looked up from his homework. His father acknowledged him and continued reading. “How come Uncle Ken don’t have no kids?” Ryan paused thoughtfully, then added, “because he don’t have a wife?” Ramesh lowered the newspaper. “I don’t know son, maybe he don’t want kids.” “But why? Because he don’t like them?” “I’m sure he like them but maybe he not ready for any right now.” “So he alone will live in that big house and drive all them cars?” “Well, he could afford those things even if he don’t need them. And besides, if he didn’t have a big house with a big lawn and garden, then I wouldn’t have a job, right?” He was pleased to see his wife’s approving smile. “I don’t think he likes kids…or me.” Ryan added, then focused on his homework again. Ramesh’s heart softened. “That’s not true, it’s just how he is. If he didn’t like us, he wouldn’t trust us in his home or give us that old fridge and stove last year when he bought new ones. And because of him, we get some more customers when we were starting the business.” His wife threw another encouraging smile, hurrying to the kitchen to wash the few dishes that had piled up after dinner. The thunder crashed again and their daughter ran to her father who took her onto his lap. Her mother

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Kenneth and Ramesh Vashti Bowlah

returned soon after and the little girl hugged her father and kissed him goodnight, before taking her mother’s hand and following her to the double-decker bed she shared with her brother. “Papa?” Ryan looked up again. “Yes?” Ryan paused. “Your bossman happy?” He lifted his shoulders up and down. “Different people does be happy with different things.” “He doesn’t laugh too much,” said Ryan, more to himself than to his father. Ramesh patted his son lightly on the shoulder, wondering when he had matured before his very eyes. The lights went out with the next flash of lightning and Ramesh left to retrieve the kerosene lamps from the kitchen cupboard that had been stored for emergencies, taking two into the bedrooms and returning to the living room with the other. Ryan then finished his homework under the quiet and watchful eyes of his father. ***** It was almost ten the next morning when Ken woke up, feeling like he had been run over by a freight train. He certainly felt like a wreck having stayed awake for most of the night. He welcomed the rays of sunlight that were determined to break through the cloudy sky. He already had the Sunday afternoon planned. He would visit his parents and then spend some time with Marc and his family. He decided if Cheryl didn’t call, it would be best to give her some space before attempting to see her again. She was right, sometimes a man needed help in making the right decisions. He showered and dressed, then stopped as he walked by his collection of model cars in the glass display cabinet in a corner of his living room. It was filled with replicas of antique, luxury and exotic cars purchased over the years on his various trips. The model of the rosso corsa 1990 Ferrari F40 caught his eye and he smiled. It was his favourite. ***** The electricity had returned by morning and the sun was shining once more. It was their off day except to feed Ken’s rottweilers and put the garbage out for collection. Ramesh was pleased that Ryan had volunteered to help him repair their roof with the flashband he had purchased weeks ago, before accompanying him in the afternoon. Ramesh had already fed the dogs and locked the kennels and was about to put out the garbage when he noticed the gift bag on the patio with a note attached. He

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Kenneth and Ramesh Vashti Bowlah

walked closer to check whether someone had left a package for his boss that needed to be secured. The note was addressed to Ramesh asking him to give the bag to his kid. He walked over to Ryan who was already seated in the pick-up and handed him the bag. “I think this is for you.” Ryan was just as confused as his father was. He lifted the item out of the bag and tore open the layers of wrapping paper, beaming a smile from ear to ear when he saw the replica of Ken’s red Ferrari. Inside the bag was a handwritten note which read: “Take care of this for me kid, but remember, you don’t need a Ferrari to define who you are. You’ll understand what this means one day. Uncle Ken.”

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Richard Georges Griot

The African Abednego, tight curls rusting on his head, cleared his throat and spoke as griots speak. Gravel shook in his voice like palm fronds rustling. Every story needs a teller to kindle it, to keep it burning through light and dark, smouldering and anointing our heads with the flame’s bitterness. Stories keep light like a fire in the evening, burning like coal on the tongue of the priestess, while black saints draped in sargassum sign the old hymns. The cross of the griot – to speak for the speechless, to grip the stem of the bone and coral sceptre, to be mounted, to sing light into the bleakness. And so, Abednego the griot, the spectre speaks: In slav’ry days, the black man’s life count for nothing. Black limbs fused to the reef praise the breaking slaver, her wooden cracking cries lost in sea erupting, her cargo converted by brackish baptism. The griot drums the ground with his staff. His rusting head glistens with the sun’s anointing. His wisdom is in long forgotten praise songs, a blank hymnal, its verses trapped in the holds of divers prisons.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Richard Georges

Birth The knotted spine of the wreck spat Moses out. A Spanish basket of oak plank and iron bolt had held him. The slave ship Atrevido boarded, captured by sword and rifle sprinkled with seasalt. The black prophet lay below deck with the others, his destiny tattooed crudely on his forehead, some greeted these English as their deliverers, but Moses did not see compassion as they fed them thin porridge in the boxes they kept them in. When they gave him to a priest, he knew he was dead. The old man’s heavy cross hung, faith chained to freedom, slave in all but name.

In the Moment Feedom Comes The Atrevido heaved, rocking itself against The indigo breakers. Ungobo could not stand, sit up, or roll over in her shackles. Again she felt the ship rock, hang, then fall. She prayed for land under her breath, others prayed for death in the deep. Both broke over the din of the relentless waves No light crept into the boat's hold. There were no days. In the blackness, the sailors took as they pleased but they broke in the night with the ship. She awoke to the chatter of Spanish in the nothingness their tongues excited – then a distant cannon fired. Iron bolts squealed and rough hands pulled each from below. Naked and shivering in the dark, Ungobo could trace another boat in the sea’s grey distance.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Richard Georges

Night fled like a rising mist, her chains, unbroken, still hung from her wrists. Standing on the wooden deck sunlight danced deliriously in the shallows. The kisses of oars to water came next to her. The men from the rowboats grunted in gutturals as they plucked them from the hold like fishermen clearing their traps. She could taste the salt in the air.

The Heavy Anchor i. The sea breaks over the swirling curls on my grandfather’s head. His milky teeth gnaw at the shore, his mouth sucks the perforated coral for salt, water, and air. Where else but the indigo blue womb of the deep? Where the records of these dusty rocks write themselves in shifting sands.

Oars knife the water like spades, this desert of waves that grows nothing but graves. With what

can we plumb these depths?

What else but this digging gripping anchor holding

history

between

blasted

diving

its jaws?

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Patrice M. Charles Indeed Running from Your Artist Life . . . Words trailing after like bullets in slow motion. Those letters might Kill You Honey. Where’s Your Armour?

Full Circle Smiling Politely through facebook deletions you needn’t Suffer So my dear. We hold hands and release. We Hold hands Again.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

St. Hope Earl McKenzie Mango Justice

The rounie mangoes, ripe, red and sweet, Were among the most prized. A solitary tree blessed our district. But it was at the home Of the richest man, A politician Who owned a gun.

But neither his power nor his might Could prevent the desired fruits From falling from his tree at night. And poor children with their water-pans, On their way to the tank at daybreak, Stopped and feasted at the spot, Where, Like the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, The rounies had rolled and settled.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

St. Hope Earl McKenzie

Melody At the bedrock of the valley the giving river flowed out of the hills and gurgled over blue-grey rocks down to the pool in which my mother stood, ankle-deep and bent forward, washing our garments.

Sitting on the rock on which she had placed me I watched her face with its strong nose and tightened lips as she focused on her task.

Morning sunshine filtered through the leaves of the overhanging mango branches, and cast patterns of shadows on her white frock and head-tie, as her illuminated form came forward against the dark and concave wall of rock beside her.

She spoke as she washed, but I recall only her exhortation

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St. Hope Earl McKenzie

of the biblical melody of thankfulness. Three green hillsides sloped down to us: the southern came from our home; the western was like a life-giving finger painted by Michelangelo, pointing to us from the village; the northern was a field of ripening gungo peas.

The east was a triangular sky, towards whose apex the northwestern river ran, while the sun climbed towards its base of never-ending blue.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Charlene Elson-Gustard Not Today

I am going to write, but not today... Not today.  Today I am going to be silent.  Totally silent... and wait... hoping all this will somehow like the pain of labour, go away.   I am going to break  my pencil... I will cause no one to read my lines, or hear the thoughts that try to unwind and force  my hand and break out  and escape...  For if I do not, the critics will think I have penned a premeditated plot to make the world a play, where lunatics take  centre stage and wine loses its taste with age.  I am going to write,  but not today...  Not today...  I will wait 'til the setting transforms to tranquil times when there is no bloodletting  and heroes are not heralded

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Charlene Elson-Gustard

for harming Boy Blue because he blew his horn. I will return to scribbling when the main characters  are not scarecrows who are only able to stand with sticks up their asses, or tin men void of character and human heart...  Protagonist  and antagonists in conflict  with the human spirit, distracted   by the hapless audience, they forget their lines and curse the script. I am going to write, but not today...  Not today.  For no one will read or take heed that the curtain has fallen and the director is backstage  carousing with the crew in climax... Props are strategically placed  by puritan puppets who, pulling their own strings, entangle the cast in a series of misgivings... All is bewildered and clueless  about the task of determining who plays what part.  So they act... Dimming the stage lights and record  in darkness.  Turning the spotlight on the spectacle of the stupefied  audience in the hope of finding  a fitting resolution.

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FEATUREDWRITER Poetic Tokens in the Rubble: A d v i c e o n Wr i t i n g P o e t r y Tanya Shirley

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2015

Poetic Tokens in the Rubble! Tanya Shirley

About Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley at National Gallery of Ja

Tanya Shirley is a poet of astounding emotional intelligence. In the 2011 and 2012 Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture Series held in Jamaica, two prominent academics mentioned Tanya Shirley’s poetry in relation to the future of Caribbean poetry. She has authored two collections She Who Sleeps With Bones and The Merchant of Feathers, Peepal Tree Press and her work is also published in several journals and anthologies. She is a riveting performer with a background in oratory, drama and dance and has had the pleasure of performing her poems in Venezuela, England, Canada, the U.S.A. and the Caribbean. She currently teaches in the Department of Literatures in English, UWI, Mona, Jamaica, where she is also a PhD Candidate. Tanya Shirley is also proud to be a Cave Canem Fellow. Here she shares some of insight on writing poetry.

I am surprised that people still ask me about the value of poetry. Get a group of friends and ask who in that group secretly writes poems. I guarantee you will be surprised. We are a society of closeted poets. We all know the value of poetry: the love sick nights when words on a page soothe like a lost lover’s lips; the idle hours in a meeting when scribbles take the shape of rhymes and we tolerate the drone of a narcissist’s voice; the anger of injustice that has no outlet except the fire of dub. I could go on and on. Sadly, still, we are yet to allocate adequate resources to harness and hone the skills of our poets. We think of entertainment and we think of musicians often neglecting the music, humour and social commentary of poetry. However, this is not for the unbelievers. I want this to be a tool for aspiring poets. So that when the world is ready for us, we will be ready for the world. I have had the honour of teaching Creative Writing at the University of the West Indies and conducting poetry seminars in other parts of the world. Here are some of the things I share with my beginner students. May you find some small token in the rubble:

1

Why do you want people to read your poetry but you don’t read the poetry written by others? Show me a pianist who isn’t familiar with the melodies of other players, a tennis player who doesn’t watch tennis. Reading poetry is giving your talent the food it needs to thrive. So I returned and said child there was no bread I’ll write you my last poem instead. ‘My Last Poem’ Lorna Goodison

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Poetic Tokens in the Rubble! Tanya Shirley

2

3

4

A diary entry is not a poem. It may have the kernel for a poem but it is not the poem. The poem will come when you take that flood of emotions and craft it into something bigger than your pain. For example, heartbroken you may vent in your diary: “he left and my heart is broken, I am going to smash his token.” Well the idea of turning hurt into anger can drive a poem but as it stands there is nothing original about that phrase. Everyone experiences heart break but they look to the poet to examine it with fresh eyes, to transform the banality of a common experience. Of course it wouldn’t work as a poem either because the word “token” is not authentic, it is there just to rhyme with the word “broken.” They are standing close to each other in the dark, near to where the old fashioned roses are, and dusk is beginning to settle over their relationship. ‘The Woman in the Park’ Jacqueline Bishop Poems don’t have to rhyme all the time. Can I get an Amen! If you read poetry often you will see how other poets experiment with rhyme. Mervyn Morris says, “Rhyme should seem inevitable, or almost invisible, sometimes almost inaudible.” You should not write the word “bad” and for the next line sit there thinking “what rhymes with ‘bad,’ oh, ‘sad,’ now I have to make the persona sad.” Of course the poor persona doesn’t want to be sad and the poem then loses its authenticity. The more you practice your poetry writing the more rhyme stealthily creeps into your work in the most unsuspecting places and that’s when the poem becomes interesting. Also play around with different types of rhymes such as internal rhymes and slant rhymes. I love a melancholy baby, sweet, with fire in her belly. ‘Valley Prince’ Mervyn Morris We often think in clichéd ways but the poet’s job is to go beyond the realm of the immediate response to offer alternative ways of viewing the ordinary. An exercise I give my students is to get a blank page and for each word write down as many words that come immediately to their minds. Then they must write a few lines of poetry without using any of those words. For example, when you hear the word “heart” write down all the words that come to mind. For most people, the common words are “love, blood, life, red, etc.” The challenge is then to write a few lines about the heart without using any of those words. This exercise trains the mind to not automatically reach for clichés when writing poems. Another word, “grave” and perhaps the usual words that come to mind are “dead, body, coffin, funeral, etc”; now write a poem about a grave without using any of those words. Can we help readers to process death and mourning differently if we give them a grave that is a table for strewn flowers, a bouquet returning to the earth? My heart has turned to stone but I cannot put that in the pot. ‘Tropic Love’ Olive Senior

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Poetic Tokens in the Rubble! Tanya Shirley

5 6 7

8

Save the love poems for when you are at a more advanced stage of your career as a poet. However, if you do not heed this advice, please do not confuse good love poetry with Hallmark greeting cards. When you write about love, write from the place of the unspeakable. And you look beyond love as a river, tasting salt in its tidal mouth, stiffens for the Judas-kiss of the sea. ‘Beloved of the Rivers’ Mark McWatt Do not preach. The page is not a pulpit and yes, yes, you feel it deep into your soul but until you can locate exactly where in your body this soul resides, save the soul for Sunday’s sermon. Too often we reach for the soul when we are too lazy to locate the real hiding place of our pain. Unless of course you are Walcott: when white flowers sprout from the branches of a bull’s horns, the white frangipani’s flowers like the white souls of nuns. ‘iii Reading Machado’ Derek Walcott Avoid abstract words as much as possible. I refer to words such as “faithful, loyal, mean, bad, pain, etc.” You want people to enter your poem and too often abstract terms no longer carry sufficient weight to open doors. Abstract words are those that carry different meanings to different people and often in a poem become meaningless. You refer to the persona as a faithful person. Well, does that mean she is a confidante or does it mean she will take a bullet for her friend? For example, “he was mean to me.” Well, “mean” covers such a broad spectrum that it is far more effective to provide an image that conveys meanness. We learned to hide from the Boss who walked in the tick-tock of his shoes, shimmering & clocking down the hall, counting down to trouble and detention for our trespasses. Confiscator of chains, rubber wristbands, chokers; grand inquisitor for practical jokers hooligans, belligerents and perverts. ‘Overseer: Good Hair’ Vladimir Lucien Eavesdrop. Be a voyeur (well not to the point where you’ll get arrested). Some of the best material for poems comes from simply observing your surroundings. Jamaicans do say the most interesting things and a poet must keep his/her ear to the ground. who talk their talk knowing, tssst you may not catch everything but chu – you will catch enough. And if you don’t catch nothing then something wrong with your ears –

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Poetic Tokens in the Rubble! Tanya Shirley

they been tuned to de wrong frequency. ‘Twelve Notes for a Light Song of Light’ Kei Miller

9

10

11

Practice writing object poems. There is value in showing others how language can transform the things we take for granted. An object poem has the potential to transcend the object and blossom into a wonderful surprise. Exercise: place an apple in the palm of your hand, feel it, taste it, smell it, stare at it, drop it. Now write a few lines about the experience. Then, imagine the apple is not just an ordinary apple. What else could it be? What purpose does it serve? What does it remind you of? And yes, yes, Adam and Eve will come to mind. That poem has been written many times over. Leave it alone! I sip the skin off warm Milo and watch the freckled surface break. ‘Balancing Act’ Millicent A.A. Graham Practice using figurative language. An easy exercise: Find five metaphors and five similes for a desk. This is a frequent response in my classes and I try not to take it personally: “This desk is a prison.” When using figurative language in a poem, do not kill the metaphor by assuming the reader’s stupidity. If you say the desk is a prison, trust that the reader gets it. No need to break the legs down into bars and the wood into a cot. Sometimes simplicity is best. In tree-shaded pools the minnows took life 1at their ease. The hillsides were a concert of green. And then the miracle of white sails erupting like whispering thunder out of the blue. ‘The Arrival’ Edward Baugh I’m a poet – you couldn’t possibly expect me to stop at number 10. That’s just way too ordinary. Especially in the beginning of your journey as a poet, avoid gimmicks. By gimmicks I mean: exclamation marks, ellipses, questions and onomatopoeia (only in cartoons does a gun go “Bang! Bang!”). Often a line isn’t doing the work it should be doing and the easy way out is to put an exclamation mark and make it shout when really it should go quietly into the good night. At this stage allow the poem to explore the answers instead of settling for the questions. Here is an example of a question opening up the possibilities of a poem: Do you understand the Power? I have given you my name. I have eaten from your hand. I have left skin on your pillow. ‘Two’ Dennis Scott

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Poetic Tokens in the Rubble! Tanya Shirley

A disclaimer: This list is by no means complete but obviously space is limited. The quotes from poems are meant to serve as practical examples. They are all from Caribbean poets. I could not quote from every Caribbean poet and many of our great poets are not included. Forgive me for this random selection and I hope you will use it as a starting point to explore the rich offerings of Caribbean poetry. I wish you well on your journey. May the muse leave bread and wine at your table.

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Book bag issue 5  

Dynamic writing from the Caribbean. Poetry and short stories from some of the region's best plus advice on writing poetry from Tanya Shirley

Book bag issue 5  

Dynamic writing from the Caribbean. Poetry and short stories from some of the region's best plus advice on writing poetry from Tanya Shirley

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